USDOT funds mobility research at University of Washington transportation center


The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has awarded approximately US$14m over five years to a multi-university, regional transportation center led by the University of Washington (UW) to fund research aimed at improving the mobility of people and goods across the Pacific Northwest.

The USDOT’s competitive funding, which local and regional agencies and companies will match for an expected total of US$28m, advances the work of the Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium, or PacTrans. Matching funders include transportation industry partners and local transportation agencies, including the four states’ transportation departments and the City of Seattle. The UW-led consortium is one of 10 regional University Transportation Centers (UTCs) across the USA and represents Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. The new grant will expand PacTrans’ focus, which previously included data-driven solutions for transportation safety and sustainability, to address all aspects of the region’s diverse mobility challenges. That will include everything from alleviating traffic congestion, to improving transit accessibility for people with disabilities, improving the reliability of trip-planning tools, and expanding rural transportation options.

Other university partners in the PacTrans UTC consortium include Boise State University, Gonzaga University, Oregon State University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Idaho and Washington State University. The federal program’s funding commitment is five years, much longer than the previous two UTC awards, providing valuable stability and opportunity. The universities may also partner with private companies and other stakeholders with economic and social interests in improving the reliability and efficiency with which people and goods move around the region. Potential research topics include: expanding the use of wireless sensors to collect data and connect traffic systems; integrating self-driving vehicles into traffic operations; exploring transit ‘deserts’ across the region; strategic freight planning; and car-sharing for elderly communities.

“This exciting new grant will allow us to address broader mobility challenges, of which our region certainly has many,” said PacTrans director, Yinhai Wang, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering. “We’re seeing rapid population growth in both Portland and Seattle, but we also have the very rural areas like Alaska, with very few people living in a vast landscape. So the question is: How can we offer transportation mobility to people in very different living environments?”

Rep Rick Larsen, a senior member of the US House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, commented, “When it comes to transportation problems, I have found that most folks want facts and data to guide decision-making. That is why this grant is important; it will help the UW and its PacTrans partners develop smarter transportation solutions that will help drive job growth and keep the economy moving.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).