Transportation Leaders Officially Kick Off Volpe Center Construction

rendering of the new Volpe center
A rendering of the new Volpe building as seen from Binney Street looking west. (Image courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP)

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Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently celebrated the groundbreaking of a construction project for the agency’s new John A. Volpe Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Mass.

The Volpe Center, a hub for transportation experts that focuses on infrastructure and innovation, currently occupies 14 acres in Cambridge’s Kendall Square neighborhood. The General Services Administration and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology entered into an exchange agreement to replace the existing facility with a new one.

“This new facility will provide important research in transportation technologies and help create policies that will increase safety and protect lives,” Chao said in a DOT press release.

Chao was joined at the groundbreaking ceremony Oct. 30 by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Cambridge Mayor Marc McGovern, GSA Chief of Staff Robert Borden, MIT Vice President for Research Maria Zuber and James Cantwell, state director for Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Under terms of the exchange agreement, MIT will pay $750 million to construct a new facility for Volpe on approximately 4 acres. In return, the remaining 10 acres no longer in use by the federal government will be transferred to MIT.



Former Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Ray Martinez will oversee construction of the facility. DOT announced Oct. 10 that Martinez was leaving his post at FMCSA and moving to the new role.

According to the press release, the project will replace Volpe’s six existing buildings and surface parking lots with a new research facility, with underground parking and 100 bicycle parking spaces. The new building will be energy efficient and will meet U.S. Green Building Council standards.

“GSA’s innovative real estate solution converts an underused and outdated asset into a state-of-the-art research facility and an economic engine for the community,” GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said.

The Volpe Center’s work covers multiple areas of transportation, including unmanned aircraft systems, commercial space vehicles, GPS and automated mobility technology.

“No other center can match Volpe’s impressive concentration of multimodal transportation expertise,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, deputy assistant secretary for research and technology at DOT.

Founded in 1970, the Volpe Center is completely funded by sponsored projects. While DOT sponsors most of its work, the center also supports other agencies, such as NASA and the departments of Defense, Interior and Homeland Security, as well as state and local government agencies.

“This opportunity will allow the Department of Transportation to strengthen the Volpe Center’s technical capabilities at no cost to taxpayers and continue our important work,” Volpe Center Director Anne Aylward said. “For 50 years, the Volpe Center’s extensive cross-modal partnerships have led to innovative solutions that advance national and global transportation systems for the public good.

“We look forward to working with the transportation enterprise to meet the nation’s current and future needs and priorities.”

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