UW-Madison in drivers’ seat of national transportation center

Aug. 9, 2005

by Renee Meiller

With $16 million in funding over five years from the U.S. Department of Transportation, UW-Madison transportation engineers will drive their research, education and technology-transfer efforts to the national level.

President Bush will sign the "Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Act: A Legacy for Users" Wednesday in Aurora, Ill. The bill designates UW-Madison as one of 10 National University Transportation Centers charged with advancing research on critical national transportation issues and expanding the workforce of transportation professionals.

"The department of civil and environmental engineering has been positioning itself to take advantage of an opportunity like this for some time," says civil and environmental engineering Professor Teresa Adams, who directs the UW-Madison-based Midwest Regional University Transportation Center (MRUTC) and will direct the new national center.

A collaboration between seven Upper Midwest universities, the MRUTC focuses on optimizing assets and management techniques for transportation facilities. The legislation also provided an additional $3 million over two years for the regional center, where researchers recently concluded a major study of freight corridors and transportation systems (including rail corridors, airports and lake and river ports) throughout the Upper Midwest, Manitoba and Ontario.

U.S. Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin chairs the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure and was instrumental in bringing the national center to UW-Madison. The designation recognizes the MRUTC's reputation as a successful regional center, says Adams, as well as the university's breadth of transportation activities.

The department of civil and environmental engineering also is home to the Wisconsin Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory, a partnership with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) in which researchers study traffic mobility and safety; and the Wisconsin Highway Research Program, which strategically integrates university, industry and DOT research efforts to improve the state's highways and bridges. In addition, the university offers transportation engineering and city planning, and transportation management and policy graduate programs.

As a result of this existing transportation research, education and outreach infrastructure, UW-Madison civil and environmental engineering researchers associated with the new center can tackle a range of national transportation priorities-some of which include aging infrastructure, freight capacity and management, traffic congestion, materials sustainability, and environmental issues such as air quality and pavement runoff. They will collaborate with university experts in industrial and systems engineering, business, urban and regional planning, public affairs and other areas.

Center staff also will work closely with the Wisconsin DOT to align their strategic plan with DOT priorities, says MRUTC Deputy Director Jason Bittner. "While it's still a University of Wisconsin effort, we'd be a little short-sighted to not take advantage of helping in the model of the Wisconsin Idea-the boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state-as much as we can," he says.

Primary "customers" of the university's transportation research, education and tech-transfer are state transportation agencies. The new center will enable researchers to foster existing relationships and cultivate new ones, says Adams. "It provides a great opportunity to continue to work with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and other departments of transportation across the nation," she says.