US DOT Looks to Future of Transportation Infrastructure, Taps College Consortium Including UConn for $14.2 Million Initiative

Connecticut’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure, and the lack of sufficient funding to make needed improvements, have been in the news often in recent months.  While not an immediate solution to pressing challenges, an announcement from the U.S. Department of Transportation may provide encouragement for those seeking longer-term remedies. The U.S. DOT has selected the University of Maine to lead the creation of a highly competitive University Transportation Center (UTC), to focus on “improving the curability and extending the life of transportation infrastructure.”

The initiative, to include the University of Connecticut and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, will be called the Transportation Infrastructure Durability Center (TIDC). TIDC aims to help save taxpayer dollars by extending the life of transportation assets, including bridges, roads and rail.

The U.S. DOT will provide as much as $14.2 million over five years for the UMaine-led coalition including UConn, University of Rhode Island, University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of Vermont, and Western New England University.

Additional partners include representatives from the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT), Vermont Agency of Transportation, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Transportation and Development Institute.

“Along with our partners from all New England states, we look forward to leading research to extend the life of existing bridges, construct longer-lasting assets, and reduce costs for the DOT and the public,” said Dr. Habib Dagher, founding executive director of the UMaine Advanced Structures and Composites Center, and center director of the newly formed TIDC Center.

Officials explain that working with state DOTs, the new TIDC will seek to identify new materials and technologies that maximize the impact of transportation infrastructure investments. The center will work along four pathways:

  1. develop improved road and bridge monitoring and assessment tools;
  2. develop better ways to strengthen existing bridges to extend their life;
  3. use new materials and systems to build longer-lasting new bridges and accelerate construction; and
  4. use new connectivity tools to enhance asset and performance management while promoting workforce development, the release said.

According to the U.S. DOT, each University Transportation Center is a consortium of two- and four-year colleges and universities that come together to form a unique center of transportation excellence on a specific research topic.

“Together, they advance U.S. technology and expertise in the many disciplines comprising transportation through education, solutions-oriented research and technology transfer, and the exploration and sharing of cutting-edge ideas and approaches,” USDOT explains.

The U.S. DOT invests in the future of transportation through its University Transportation Centers (UTC) Program, which awards and administers grants to consortia of colleges and universities across the United States.  In the Northeast, other consortia with the same policy focus include a 9-institution UTC led by Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and a 6-institution group led by Pennsylvania State University.

Other groupings include a 10-institution consortium led by the University of Florida devoted to reducing congestion; a 6-institution effort to promote safety led by the University of Michigan and a 8-institution initiative to improve mobility of people and goods coordinated by the University of Southern California.

The newly announced TIDC will harness the experience of 28 faculty researchers, including a team of five engineering faculty members from UConn, led by Civil and Environmental Engineering Department Professor Ramesh B. Malla, and will train 280 student researchers from all New England states. It will focus on real infrastructure needs identified by DOT partners, and prioritize extending the life of existing transportation assets to ensure cost-effectiveness.

“As a regional and national leader in transportation-related research, UMaine is prepared and ready to take on this work,” said U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine. “The creation of this new center will allow the university to expand its efforts to tackle the infrastructure problems facing communities not just in Maine, but across the country. This project has the potential to save taxpayer money and improve quality of life.”

“We are eager to partner with this program to support research that will offer new technologies and techniques that ensure taxpayer investments continue to be maximized while also extending the lifespan of our investments,” said Maine DOT Commissioner David Bernhardt.  Officials noted that member universities of the new TIDC have an extensive record of accomplishments in transportation infrastructure research, education and technology transfer.

New England’s transportation infrastructure faces unique challenges due to harsh winter weather and short construction seasons. According to ASCE, Nearly 30 percent of New England roads are rated in poor condition which, on average, costs each motorist $584 annually in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs. Nationally, driving on roads in need of repair costs U.S. motorists $120.5 billion.

Since 1987, the UTC program has advanced transportation research and technology at colleges and universities across the country. Every five years, academic institutions nationwide compete to form their region’s UTC.


Yale University Breaks into Top 10 in World University Rankings

Yale University edged into the top 10 in the annual World University Rankings for the first time, ranking tied for 9th place on the 2014-2015 list with Imperial College in London.  For the three previous years, Yale was ranked #11. Leading the new list were California Institute of Technology, Harvard University, University of Oxford, Stanford University and University of Cambridge.  The next five are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, and University of California - Berkley, just ahead of Yale and Imperial College.  The University of Chicago slipped from 9th to 11th in the rankings.24677_wur-2014-2015-news

Eight of the top 10 universities are in the United States, the other two in the United Kingdom.

From other nations, the top finishers were Swiss Federal Institute of Technology at #13, University of Toronto at #20, University of Tokyo at #23, Ludwig-Maximilins-Universitat (Germany) at #29, and University of Melbourne at #33.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2014-2015, powered by Thomson Reuters, are the only global university performance tables to judge world-class universities across all of their core missions - teaching, research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.

The top universities rankings employ 13 performance indicators to provide “the most comprehensive and balanced comparisons available,” which are “trusted by students, academics, university leaders, industry and governments,” the organization’s website points out.  Institutions provide and sign off on their institutional data for use in the rankings.Yale ranking

The 13 performance indicators are grouped into five areas:

  • Teaching: the learning environment (worth 30 per cent of the overall ranking score)
  • Research: volume, income and reputation (worth 30 per cent)
  • Citations: research influence (worth 30 per cent)
  • Industry income: innovation (worth 2.5 per cent)
  • International outlook: staff, students and research (worth 7.5 per cent).

The U.S. has 74 universities in the top 200, down from 77 last year. Some 60 per cent of those institutions rank lower than they did 12 months ago, with an average fall of 5.34 places per university, according to Times Higher Education. Canada and the United Kingdom also slipped slightly in the overall rankings, while Asian universities trended higher, with 24 universities in the world top 200, four more than last year.

When the top world universities are broken down by academic disciplines, Yale ranks #7 in arts and humanities, #7 in life sciences, #7 in social sciences, #10 in clinical, pre-clinical and health, and #13 in physical sciences.  Yale finishes outside of the top 100 in engineering & technology.

Times Higher Education, which produces the rankings, is based in the United Kingdom.

THE  Watch the video presenting top 10.