By Eric Kulisch
The Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration on Tuesday awarded $77 million in grants to 22 University Transportation Centers to research issues such as shared rail corridors for passengers and freight, multimodal freight and infrastructure innovations, distracted driving and reducing roadway fatalities and injuries.
Each center will receive $3.5 million and match the funds with non-federal resources. The DOT said it used a more competitive process than in prior years and put a premium on collaboration by encouraging each UTC to form a consortium with at least one other school. Altogether, 121 schools are participating in the research.
The designated UTCs will work with regional, state and local transportation agencies to develop solutions for their communities and the nation.
The Research and Innovative Technology Administration selected 10 UTCs, two transit-oriented UTCs and 10 regional UTCs.
An example of the work being done with direct application to freight transportation is at the University of Tennessee. The school’s Trusted Truck program hopes to save commercial motor carriers precious time by wirelessly sending information about a bus or truck to safety inspectors without it having to stop at an inspection station. Using the vehicle’s identification, weight and status as well as the driver’s electronic logbook, inspectors will be able to make more accurate decisions about which trucks and drivers need to stop for roadside inspections, researchers say. The goal is to make better use of resources by targeting those operators that pose a safety risk on the highways while drivers and carriers with clean records won’t have to stop as often.
Most of the research done by the UTCs seems worthwhile, although it’s not uncommon for some of the grants to result from congressional earmarks by lawmakers looking out for their local schools.