WMU receives $1.4 million to start transportation research center

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The one-year grant may be renewable for additional years.

KALAMAZOO—A multidisciplinary team of Western Michigan University researchers led by civil and construction engineers has received a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to create one of 33 transportation research centers at colleges across the country.

The grant, which is through the transportation department's Research and Innovative Technology Administration, or RITA, is for year one with the possibility of renewal for three additional years. The WMU grant is part of about $63 million in awards to advance research and education programs that address the nation's critical transportation challenges.

"University transportation centers are key to helping us address today's transportation needs, from environmental sustainability to safety," says U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The participating universities are a critical part of our national transportation strategy and to developing a professional workforce with the expertise and knowledge to tackle the challenges of the future."

The university transportation research centers will conduct research that directly supports the priorities of the transportation department to promote the safe, efficient and environmentally sound movement of goods and people.

WMU is project lead

WMU is the lead institution for the Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities. Partner institutions include Tennessee State University, the University of Texas, Arlington, Utah State University and Wayne State University. The center will focus on improving public transit systems and alternative transportation modes, providing better and safer pedestrian and bicycle networks and enhancing transportation accessibility for children, people with disabilities, older adults and lower-income populations.

The WMU contingent is headed by Dr. Jun-Seok Oh, professor of civil and construction engineering and the grant's principal investigator, and Dr. Osama Abudayyeh, professor and chair of the Department of Civil and Construction Engineering and associate dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Other key members include Dr. Valerian Kwigizile, assistant professor of civil and construction engineering, Dr. Richard Long, professor of blindness and low vision studies and associate dean of the College of Health and Human Services, Dr. Ron Van Houten, professor of psychology and Dr. Christopher Scott Smith, assistant professor of geography. Other departments involved in the project include computer science, geography and urban planning and special education.

"We have been seeking this opportunity for many years," Oh says. "Developing a Tier 1 University Transportation Center at WMU seemed almost impossible as we have a limited number of individuals in this important research area. However, we were successful in securing this funding with the expertise that we built over the years at WMU and with our partner institutions. The center will become a vehicle to promote transportation research at WMU. Now sustaining this effort and momentum will be our next challenge."

Paradigm shift

The center's focus will be to shift the paradigm of transportation systems from public services to quality of lives; provide benefits of technological advances to individuals' daily travel; promote active transportation for healthier and safer communities; enhance transportation infrastructure and systems for individuals with disabilities; minimize negative impacts of transportation; and improve public perceptions of livability.

The Department of Transportation grants included five national university transportation centers, eight regional centers and 20 additional centers. WMU's Transportation Research Center for Livable Communities was one of the 20 additional centers, with each receiving $1.4 million grants.

"The transportation center will not only promote public transit and non-motorized transportation systems for commuters, but will also focus on school children, older adults, individuals with disabilities, and the low income population," Abudayyeh says. "Related research will include planning, design, maintenance and technologies for public transit and non-motorized transportation. We will utilize technological advances in transportation to develop the livable community concept. We are confident that our multidisciplinary team will make this endeavor possible."