USF looks to help solve traffic woes with $7.5 million grant

USF will participate in a study to reduce traffic congestion nationwide. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

After receiving a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to conduct a study aiming to reduce traffic congestion in the country, the USF College of Engineering’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) anticipates working with the Florida Department of Transportation to bring an additional $7.5 million to fund the research.

The grant will build the National Institute for Congestion Reduction (NICR), the first center focused on reducing traffic in the nation. The center, located within CUTR, will be given an additional $7.5 million by the state government.

Executive Director of the Center for Urban Transportation Robert Bertini said that the study has to be relevant and applicable to the whole country since the grant will be provided by the federal government, plus the matching funds offered by the state government.

“It’s a problem here in Tampa but also in other places in the country,” Bertini said. “Because we have this support from the federal government, the work we do here is relevant everywhere, even internationally. But we also need to generate local support for the matching funds.”

Bertini said that the center would also be beneficial for student success, as NICR will be hiring USF students to participate in the study, create new courses and webinars as well as offer summer camps to high school students in the Tampa Bay area.

“From the student perspective, this is great because these funds will support students and allow us to attract new students to USF and into the transportation field,” Bertini said. “We will hire USF students for the research and create new educational initiatives focused on student success in the field of transportation.”

In order to receive the grant, CUTR went through a competitive process where more than 50 universities nationwide applied and only two received the grant – one school focused on congestion and the other — Washington State — focused on infrastructure.

With this grant, CUTR will partner with other universities throughout the study, including the University of California, Berkeley; Texas A&M University; and the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez.

Half of the research will be done at USF and the other half will be distributed across the other three campuses, according to Bertini. Each research project will include faculty and students from at least two of the campuses as a way to work closely with other universities across the country.

“Consortia are good because you can bring together kind of a broader set of expertise and you can cover different parts of the country that have different needs and different perspectives,” Bertini said.

Bertini said that CUTR will collect data from sensors located across the city, drones flying above the highways and both online surveys and questionnaires to be used in the research.

The proposal was submitted to the USDOT last December and consisted of 35 pages. The grant has three years of funding, which expires in 2022, according to Bertini.

“It’s exciting and we feel honored that the federal government is trusting us with this responsibility. It’s also a little bit daunting because we want to do our best we want to be successful, so we are now starting to gear up to begin the efforts in the fall.”

The USDOT currently has 37 centers around the country, which consist of seven national, 10  regional and 20 tier centers. The grant will build the first NICR in Florida.

In addition, CUTR will create a “big data archive” that will be used to store all the information and data used in the research, according to Bertini. CUTR already started building the database, however, the grant will accelerate the process.

While the work is set to start in the fall, Bertini hopes to compete again for the grant in 2022, when the funding is set to expire.

“With this grant, more and more people will know about USF,” Bertini said. “We’ve been working on transportation research here for a long time, but this helps move us up a notch in people’s perceptions.”