January 25, 2012

USDOT awards $3.5 million for UW-based regional transportation center

News and Information

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a grant of $3.5 million to a multi-university, regional transportation center led by the University of Washington. The newly established Pacific Northwest Transportation Consortium, or PacTrans, will focus on safe and sustainable transportation in environments ranging from busy urban centers to remote mountainous terrain.

Yinhai Wang's group is working to collect, store, organize and analyze the vast amount of traffic data that exists for the Seattle area.

“PacTrans will focus on developing sustainable solutions for the diverse transportation needs of the Pacific Northwest,” said director Yinhai Wang, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering.

The centers work could have helped people get around during last weeks storm, he said. New ways to analyze existing data that combines weather conditions, traffic volumes, vehicle speeds, road surface conditions, and incidents can extract information that helps travelers choose the best routes, and traffic operators make optimal decisions, Wang said.

“As transportation becomes a more critical issue for urban and rural environments, its very timely that weve won this award to help develop modern transportation systems,” said Matt ODonnell, dean of the UW College of Engineering.

The consortium, one of the Transportation Departments 10 newly funded regional centers, will represent Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. Institutional partners are Oregon State University, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Idaho and Washington State University.

PacTrans will fund research that addresses the broad themes of safety and sustainability, in projects such as:

  • Assessing the effectiveness of statewide bans on driving and texting.
  • Using video and traffic-monitoring data to better understand how vehicles, transit, pedestrians and bicyclists travel on arterial streets.
  • Conducting a survey to measure the success of various driving-reduction programs.
  • Developing a system to manage roadside slopes at risk of collapsing and impeding traffic during earthquakes or storms.
Linda Boyle with a car that measures a driver's attention, behavior and performance for her research on driver distraction.

“Transportation research and development is one of the great challenges facing our state as we seek to remain competitive now and in the future,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. “I applaud this critical investment and congratulate the University of Washington for securing the resources we need to keep transportation research a top priority.”

The center seeks to capitalize on the Pacific Northwests environmental awareness, rapid population growth and use of advanced technologies, Wang said. Research projects will aim to address driver and pedestrian safety, traffic congestion, roadway infrastructure construction and repair, vehicle emissions, mobility for the elderly and disabled, and import and exports of goods.

“As the fourth largest exporting state in the nation, Washington knows the importance of modernized transportation infrastructure to keep our economy moving,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. “The University of Washington is well positioned to develop the sustainable solutions that will shape 21st-century transportation infrastructure.”

OSU's bicycle simulator is used to study interactions between drivers and cyclists.

The UW-based TransNow was among 59 centers to be phased out last year. The new award will maintain the UWs role as a regional hub for transportation research. PacTrans will collaborate with the newly funded federal centers at Portland State University and the University of Idaho. It also will work closely with the statewide Washington State Transportation Center based at the UW.

The grant is part of $77 million in DOT grants to 22 University Transportation Centers, involving a total of 121 universities, to advance research and education programs that address national transportation challenges.

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For more information, contact Wang at 206-616-2696 or yinhai@uw.edu. More on the grant competition is at http://utc.dot.gov/about/grants_competitions/2011/