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University Transportation Centers Program: education and research for the 21st century.

University Transportation Centers Program

Education and Research for the 21st Century


Thomas D. Larson, Federal Highway Administrator, in the 1991 Francis C. Turner Lecture, described innovation as "the introduction of something new, something that deviates from established doctrine or practice, from existing forms in the technical, economic, or social spheres." The University Transportation Centers Program exemplifies this concept and represents the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA's) commitment to developing and promoting innovative problem-solving methods for the transportation community. Specifically, this program (again in the words of Thomas Larson) reaches out "to the university community to bring in a bright new generation of transportation leaders."

The Department of Transportation started the University Transportation Centers Program in 1988. Two years later, the Department promoted increased educational activities in the program to develop highly skilled and knowledgeable professionals who could address transportation problems from a broad multimodal and multidisciplinary perspective.

The program's work is conducted at 10 regional centers, several Advanced Institutes throughout the country, and 3 newly proposed National Centers for Transportation Management, Research, and Development. This article presents an overview of ongoing and planned program activities occurring at these centers and institutions.

Regional Centers

Most of the work performed under the University Transportation Centers Program takes place at the 10 regional centers. These centers, which operate under competitively procured grants are consortiums led by the following universities:

* Region I--Massachusetts Institute

of Technology. * Region II--City University of New

York. * Region III--Pennsylvania State

University. * Region IV--University of North

Carolina. * Region V--University of Michigan. * Region VI--Texas A&M

University. * Region VII--Iowa State

University. * Region VIII--North Dakota State

University. * Region IX--University of

California, Berkeley. * Region X--University of


Between FY 1988 and FY 1990, the centers together received approximately $20 million. With this funding, the centers started 15 educational programs. The universities in the program initiated research projects in the following areas:

* Transit: vehicle technology,

economics, planning, and work

force management. * Railroad: economics, planning,

productivity, and high-speed rail. * Maritime: landside operations of

ports. * Multimodal: hazardous materials,

planning, and intermodal trips. * Highway: intelligent

vehicle-highway systems (IVHS), safety,

traffic operations, economics,

planning, pavements, structures,

materials, environment, and

heavy trucks.

Highlights of various programs in these research areas are presented in the next section.

Success Stories from the Regional Centers

Key accomplishments of the University Transportation Centers Program follow.

Region I

The Maine Department of Transportation has decided to build an experimental bridge with reduced isotropic (i.e., equal in both directions) deck reinforcement. A University of Maine project predicts this bridge deck will demonstrate increased durability where deicing chemicals are used. The Province of Ontario estimates it has saved more than $1 million annually in steel reinforcement costs with this deck.

Region II

Polytechnic University and Princeton University have together addressed the problem of prioritizing bridges for maintenance and rehabilitation in New York and New Jersey. The work involved bridge risk analysis and the development of methods to predict when parts of the bridge might fail.

Region III

Morgan State University, a minority institution, has continued to improve its highly successful and innovative career development and training project. This project recruits and places minority students in internships with State and local transportation organizations.

Researchers at the West Virginia university have developed a microcomputer program to determine if trucks with low ground clearances will hang up at railroad grade crossings of various profiles. The West Virginia Department of Transportation and the Oregon Public Utilities Commission have used the program on a trial basis. The final version of the program, HANGUP, is planned to be distributed through the McTRANS Center.

Region IV

Vanderbilt University has developed an expert system to advise personnel in State departments of transportation in the task of warranting and selecting roadside safety hardware. The expert system is composed of two primary modules--the appurtenance selection module and the site characterization module. The appurtenance selection module takes a list of constraints on the design of a roadway and searches for roadside safety hardware that satisfies the design constraints. After the search produces a set of technically feasible solutions, the best alternative is recommended on the basis of least installed cost.

Region V

The University of Michigan has found that a good design for truck weigh-in-motion systems is to use three sensors spaced evenly along a road. The load-estimating errors for such a system are one-third to one-half of a single-sensor system.

REgion VI

Texas Southern University, a minority institution, is studying a variety of mass transportation options--including high-occupancy vehicles facilities--to redevelop an old railroad corridor. The resulting facility would improve mobility in this Houston corridor.

Region VII

A University of Iowa study has found that the damage done to pavements by trucks is more a function of pavement roughness than was previously expected. This finding may lead to increased maintenance to keep pavement surfaces smooth and increase pavement life on highways with a high volume of heavy trucks.

Region VIII

The University of Wyoming has developed a computer program that enables an expert to prepare a data input template for complex computer programs. Using the template to enter data is much simpler than creating the data file directly, thereby permitting less experienced or infrequent users to enter data without taking extensive time to learn complex procedures. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Bridge Design Systems Task Force has requested that the University of Wyoming team develop a production version of the program for use with the Bridge Design System.

Researchers at the University of Wyoming and the Wyoming Highway Department have developed improved equations for predicting the resilient modulus of soils in the Rocky Mountain and Great Plains regions. These equations yield resilient modulus as a function of soil type, the state of stress in the pavement, the degree of soil saturation, and the resistance value. The improved prediction equations will provide State highway department officials in the North Central Region with reliable information on the resilient modulus of representative subgrade soils. This will enable them to make informed decisions on how to incorporate the recommendations of the AASHTO Guide for Design of Pavement Structures into their pavement design procedures.

Region IX

The University of California studies performed in the wake of the October 17th California earthquake highlighted the importance of redundancy in the transportation network. Alternative transportation routes to the closed San Francisco Bay Bridge included Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the quickly installed ferries, and the other bridges across San Francisco Bay.

In the Los Angeles area, the South Coast Air Quality Management District has imposed the Nation's first regulation aimed at improving air quality by modifying commuter behavior. Employers are required to reduce morning peak-period auto trips by providing incentives for alternative travel methods.

The Region IX center research project seeks to determine which incentives work best in changing travel behavior. Parking subsidies provide an example of how the program works. The researchers proposed that the District require those employers that provide a parking subsidy to also provide an alternative cash equivalent subsidy. Thus, the employee would have a choice between receiving a parking subsidy or cash to use toward alternative modes of transportation.

Region X

According to a Portland State University study, using automatic passenger counters to sample and estimate transit ridership promises to reduce sampling requirements and costs by over 30 percent.

The University of Washington is developing a real-time commuter information system for the Puget Sound area. The system, called Traffic Reporter, presents current information on freeway travel time and speed through a microcomputer equipped with a modem and mouse. The monitor screen shows a selected portion of a freeway with speed ranges identified by different colors. The mouse may be used to select an entry ramp and an exit ramp on the screen and Traffic Reporter will display the latest travel time and average speed between the selected ramps. This and other features will enable commuters to select the most favorable routes before leaving their homes or offices.

Advanced Institutes

The Advanced Institutes of the University Transportation Centers Program expand graduate-level transportation education in the United States and advance the state of transportation knowledge within a particular area of concentration. Following are brief descriptions of some of the Advanced Institutes and their areas of concentration.

The Advanced Institute for Intelligent Commercial Vehicle Highway Systems at the University of Michigan has chosen to concentrate its education and research programs on two categories of IVHS technology. The first is advanced traveler information systems for buses and heavy trucks. The second is freight and fleet control operations. The Institute has focused on these categories because they hold the most promise for improving the productivity of commercial vehicles in future years.

The Vanderbilt Information Systems in Transportation Academy (VISTA) at Vanderbilt University is designed to provide advanced education in IVHS in the area of transportation information management and decision support. In addition to IVHS, Vanderbilt's program covers information systems related to environmental protection and vehicle and system safety.

The Advanced Transportation Engineering Center at Utah State University provides education and research in traditional transportation engineering. The program emphasizes engineering for rural and urban fringe transportation facilities and the use of computers in rural transportation agencies.

The Advanced Institute at Iowa State University and the University of Iowa focuses on policy planning related to rural freight and agriculture transportation issues. Institute work concentrates on four subareas: public policy formulation, transportation planning, transportation economics and finance, and logistics. The Advanced Institute at the University of Washington centers its work on operations management and planning. Major subareas of this effort are traffic operations (including IVHS applications), transit operations, and intermodal freight operations. Several of the research projects at the Institute are part of the Washington State Department of Transportation's program, the Freeway and Arterial Management Effort.

National Centers

The current highway and mass transportation reauthorization bill provides for the establishment of three National Centers for Transportation Management, Research, and Development. The first 10 centers were required to be regional, but these new centers will be at large. Each center will address one or more major transportation problem. Examples of potential problems are:

* Urban congestion. * Transportation and economic

competitiveness. * Transportation financing,

planning, and management. * Transit industry competitiveness,

efficiency, and productivity. * Human factors and safety issues.

The three new centers will develop advanced educational programs to introduce students to the cross-disciplinary knowledge required to solve the Nation's transportation problems in the 1990's and into the next century.

Additionally, as minorities and women become an increasingly significant part of the work force, the new centers will foster major initiatives to increase the diversity of students and faculty in the University Transportation Centers Program over the next 5 years. In fact, in selecting the sites of these new centers, the Department will give special consideration to those universities that propose innovative concepts for increasing diversity in their programs. It is anticipated that the Secretary of Transportation will announce the selection of these new centers about 7 months after the reauthorization legislation is signed into law.


The University Transportation Centers Program is attracting new students into transportation education and research at the participating universities. Upon completing their academic programs, these students will start applying their knowledge and skills in the transportation community. They will help alleviate the loss of experienced professionals who are retiring in record numbers.

As the results of the longer-term research projects become available, it is hoped that the transportation community will acknowledge the significance of the Centers' problem-solving work and provide more non-federal funding for the program. With this support, the program will therefore grow and become a significant source of transportation creativity and innovation.

At present, the research performed at the centers is providing innovative solutions to such transportation problems as urban congestion, rural accessibility, air quality, needs of the elderly and disabled, highway safety, and rehabilitation of existing facilities. The resulting transportation improvements will contribute to the economic competitiveness of the Nation.

PHOTO : Laboratory facilities at Texas A&M University.

PHOTO : Faculty and students discuss transportation alternatives at Texas Southern University.

PHOTO : The Pennsylvania State University.

PHOTO : University of Texas at Austin.

Harry Hersey is the coordinator of the University Transportation Centers Program for the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Previously he worked on the Rural Technical Assistance Program and the State Training Course Program. He is a 1965 graduate of the FHWA Highway Engineer Training Program and a professional engineer registered in the State of Illinois.
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Author:Hersey, Harry H.
Publication:Public Roads
Date:Sep 1, 1991
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