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  5. Wisconsin lands federal transportation research center

Wisconsin lands federal transportation research center

Wisconsin is behind the wheel of a multi-million dollar regional transportation research center, thanks to an innovative partnership forged between university engineers and state officials.

The U.S. Department of Transportation awarded UW-Madison $890,000 per year over five years to support the new Midwest Regional University Transportation Center. That funding will in turn be matched by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and private industry, bringing the total budget of the project to nearly $9 million over five years.

The combined effort will help steer transportation priorities for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"Wisconsin and the nation as a whole will be well-served by this important new research facility," says state DOT Secretary Charles H. Thompson. "It enables the transportation community to take greater advantage of UW-Madison's high-caliber program and faculty."

Jeffrey S. Russell, a civil engineering professor and project coordinator, says the center will help build a smarter, more integrated strategy for future transportation needs. The effort includes research on improving highway maintenance, alternative transportation modes, and measuring the performance of transportation systems.

"We are creating an integrated approach to how we go about designing, constructing and maintaining our transportation system," says Russell. "We plan to bring a consortium of people together, with different experience, to holistically look at how we spend transportation dollars."

Thompson added that the center will help transportation officials make more cost-effective decisions about the multi-billion dollar investment in Midwest transportation. It will also help train a new generation of transportation managers.

The partnership is what really separated the Wisconsin project from a highly competitive field, says Russell. UW-Madison will work closely with the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and private industry to set the research agenda.

The center also pulls together transportation experts from institutions throughout the Midwest. Partners are from Marquette University, Northwestern University, UW-Milwaukee, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Chicago, Richard J. Daley Community College and Lac Courte Oriellas Ojibwa Community College.

Russell says the partnership will eventually help local government units, where the rubber meets the road on transportation projects.

Transportation has emerged as a research strength in UW-Madison's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, which has a dozen faculty and more than 30 graduate students devoted to the topic. Current projects are looking at developing tougher forms of pavement, safer guard rails, intelligent transportation systems and using recycled material in highway construction.

The new center will combine some of this technical research with policy research that reflects the big picture, he says. Society will need to address traffic congestion and urban sprawl, and find viable alternative transportation modes while cost-effectively investing the public's money, says Russell.

Faculty from the UW-Madison School of Business, and the departments of economics and urban and regional planning also intend to participate. The Department of Engineering Professional Development will coordinate the center's work in education and technology transfer to state departments of transportation and the private sector.

The Wisconsin center is one of 10 regional centers in the country run by the U.S. Department of Transportation.