DOT Opens Funding Opportunity for University Transportation Centers

Bridge construction in the Miami area
Bridge construction in the Miami area. Accelerated bridge construction has been one of the topics researched by DOT's University Transportation Centers. (Getty Images)

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The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced a competitive grant solicitation that makes nearly $5 million available as part of its University Transportation Centers program.

Authorized by Congress in 1987, DOT’s University Transportation Centers program awards grants to consortia of higher education institutions in support of transportation research and technology. The centers also are meant to develop the next generation of transportation professionals. DOT announced a Notice of Funding Opportunity on March 30 that is meant to establish four new University Transportation Centers, with awards totaling $4.93 million.

Each University Transportation Center is a partnership of colleges and universities that work together on a specific research topic.

“Our University Transportation Centers are not only the seeds of our future transportation system, they serve as living labs, bringing research to reality,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, deputy assistant secretary for research and technology at DOT. “Four new UTCs will address a variety of important 21st-century transportation topics.”

Specifically, this grant solicitation aims to fund one University Transportation Center in these areas:

  •  Highly automated transportation systems research.
  •  Communications technology and e-commerce effects on travel demand.
  •  Implications of accessible automated vehicles for disabled people.
  •  Strategic implications of evolving public transit trends.

Only nonprofit higher education institutions are allowed to apply to participate in a proposed University Transportation Center consortium. These institutions may include eligible two-year colleges and universities.

The centers proposed in this solicitation are meant to support research needs DOT identified under priorities listed in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015, including promoting safety and improving mobility of people and goods.

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DOT’s University Transportation Centers focus on an array of topics. Carnegie Mellon University leads a center dedicated to improving mobility. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill is the lead for the Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety. The University of South Florida heads the National Institute of Congestion Reduction.

Other research areas covered by the various centers include infrastructure durability, multimodal transportation infrastructure, accelerated bridge construction, inspecting infrastructure through robotic exploration and maritime transportation.

DOT requests letters of intent to participate in the grant solicitation by April 29. Applications are due May 29.

The four research areas outlined in this latest Notice of Funding Opportunity reflect DOT’s recent emphasis on autonomous vehicles and related technology. In January, DOT launched an initiative relating to advanced driver assistance systems.



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During her remarks at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting Jan. 15, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced DOT is endorsing a standardized list of recommended ADAS terminology called “Clearing the Confusion.” The list, a collaboration among the National Safety Council, AAA, Consumer Reports and data analytics company J.D. Power, is based on ADAS system functionality.

DOT also is accepting comments on AV 4.0, the latest federal update of autonomous vehicle technology guidelines, through April 2. Chao announced AV 4.0, titled “Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies,” at CES 2020 in Las Vegas on Jan. 8.

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