It was sunny and bright at The Lincoln Theater on the east side of Columbus Monday, where about 35 community leaders gathered to hear U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx make comments about the upcoming awarding in June of $40 million to develop a first-of-its-kind Fully-Integrated Transportation Network.

U.S.DOT Sec. Anthony Foxx, center, speaks to Columbus leaders about 'Smart Cities Challenge."

U.S.DOT Sec. Anthony Foxx, center, speaks to Columbus leaders about ‘Smart Cities Challenge.”

From an original pool of 78 applicants, Columbus, “The Opportunity City,” home to state government, The Ohio State University and an insurance and banking, is one of the seven finalists—Austin, TX; Denver, CO; Kansas City, MO; Pittsburgh, PA; Portland, OR; and San Francisco, CA, represent the competition.

The winning city must demonstrate how advanced data and intelligent transportation system technologies and applications can be used to reduce congestion, keep travelers safe, protect the environment, connect underserved communities and support the economic vitality of the region.

Foxx told invited Columbus leaders that population growth demands attention, and for central Ohio, where the new population estimate for 2050 is about three million, anxious ears perked up. Officials at the event said Sec. Foxx was in Columbus visiting just as he had done with the other competing cities.

“The good news,” the former mayor of Charlotte, NC, said, “is that you’re in a position to win it.” Encouraging, but six others have a chance to win it as well. Columbus lost out last year to Philadelphia being named the host city for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Columbus, now the 19th largest market in the nation, aspires to have enough community bulk to host world-class events, that now go to bigger cities with bigger resources.

Sitting to Sec. Foxx’s right was new Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, who won his first race for mayor last fall after Michael B. Coleman announced earlier in the year that he was ready to pursue other goals after 12 years running a city moving up in recognition and respect for its attitude and opportunity quotient, paradoxically , in a Rust Belt state that has little to boast about given three of its top ten cities are chronic additions to the nation’s list of top ten distressed urban centers.

Sec. Foxx will end his term at the end of this year when President Obama makes way for the next president. If Republicans or Donald Trump were to win the White House, Anthony Foxx would be replaced. Should Democrats hold on, be it Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton, Mr. Foxx could be held over to continue with continuity.

Foxx focused his remarks on proposal ideas that he emphasized by saying them slowly and loudly, “will help to improve the lives of people.” Mayor Coleman spoke to the issue of “being inclusive upfront” to avoid the turmoil that can arise when people feel left out of the decision-making process. Mr Coleman further emphasized to Foxx that Columbus would make the most of it because it would be greatly impacted by it. For proof of commitment, the mayor brought up other large community projects that had been fulfilled, in large part due to the firepower of the nearly three dozen assembled, including councilmen, foundation executives, business groups and others atop the pyramid that manages the city. The current slogan is “Opportunity City,” a reflection of the new vibe in Ohio’s capital and growing urban community.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, the Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs, was in town to urge Sec. Foxx to select the Columbus Proposal. Foxx had good reason to listen, since Ohio’s senior senator oversees funding for DOT in his capacity on the committee.

“Today’s event proves that Columbus is the best place to build the country’s most innovative transportation system,” Sen. Brown said in prepared remarks. “Business leaders, health advocates, government officials, and community members from every corner of the city have demonstrated their commitment to making this project succeed. I’ll continue working to ensure Columbus is the winner of the Smart City Challenge.”

Sen. Brown’s Q&A With Reporters

A bi-partisan effort at the state legislature to promote Columbus is underway with State Reps. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus) and Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) as co-sponsors of legislation to help sway USDOT’s decision to pick Columbus.

Rep. Craig  talked about the importance of creating efficient and innovative transportation networks that “connect residents, visitors, and businesses with where they need to go, when they need to get there.” A key factor for Craig will be to connect residents with jobs, boosting the local economy along the way.

In December 2015, DOT announced the Smart City Challenge, a competition designed to help one city develop a fully-integrated transportation network using data and technology to connect communities and move people and goods more efficiently. The City of Columbus partnered with the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA), the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), Columbus 2020, Experience Columbus, and local stakeholders to submit an application to DOT earlier this year. Through Columbus’ new Smart City Program Office, additional partners, including the Ohio State University, Battelle, IBM and Clean Fuels Ohio will assist the City with achieving its Smart City vision.

Bonus points for the lucky winning city will include access to technical support and expertise from private sector partners, including Vulcan Inc., NXP, Autodesk, and Mobileye to help execute the Smart City Plan. Vulcan Inc. will also contribute an additional $10 million to incorporate electric vehicle infrastructure.