Tier-1 transportation research centers approved for University

Civil engineers to lead $1.4 million multi-state project to make roads safer, improve infrastructure, enhance workforce development

10/28/2013 - By: Mike Wolterbeek
Zong Tian Zong Tian is the director of the University’s new multi-institutional Tier-1 University Transportation Center funded with $1.4 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The University of Nevada, Reno continues its leadership in transportation, infrastructure and earthquake engineering, having recently received two Tier-1 University Transportation Center grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation's Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

The first initiative, funded with $1.4 million a year for two years, will promote intermodal transportation systems for efficient, safe, and economic movement of goods and people in parts of the United States where a sparse network connects smaller cities and towns with denser networks of large cities. This multi-institution project led by the University will invigorate the College of Engineering's successful transportation engineering programs that have been supporting Nevada's transportation safety and infrastructure for many years. The new transportation center study area includes Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona.

"The need for improvements on our infrastructure has been identified as a critical national priority and is an area in which our Civil and Environmental Engineering Department has a long history of achievements and transformative contributions," Manos Maragakis, dean of the College of Engineering, said. "This center is a major success of our transportation program and a clear indication of its excellence and ability to address state and national needs."

About 120 universities across the nation applied for the Tier-1 university transportation center federal grants. The University of Nevada, Reno was one of the 20 institutions chosen to be a regional center.

This new center, named SOLARIS, is part of a national effort by the U.S. Department of Transportation to promote safer, more economic movement of goods and people on the nation's roadways. The collaborative program will be conducted at the University of Nevada, Reno, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, the Desert Research Institute, Arizona State University, and the University of New Mexico.

The three broad research areas are traffic safety data management and crash mitigation; technologies for safe traffic operations and management; and sustainable and safe transportation infrastructure. Education and workforce development are central to the themes of SOLARIS.

Zong Tian, a civil engineering professor at the University, is the principal investigator and will lead the SOLARIS consortium as its director.

"Conducting applied research has been the key of our success which has fostered a strong partnership with transportation agencies like NDOT and RTC," Tian said. "This Tier-1 transportation grant will definitely further enhance both our research and education programs and give us a greater exposure at the national level."

For the past eight years he has been director of the highly successful Center for Advanced Transportation Education and Research, which works to develop efficient, sustainable, and environmentally friendly transportation systems in the desert southwest of the United States, which emphasizes interdisciplinary collaboration in applied transportation research.

"Much credit goes to Tian for forging a collaborative, interstate, and inter-institutional team, as guided by strategic discussion between Senator Reid's staff and the University," said Bob Dickens, who, as government relations director for the University, worked closely with Tian and Senator Harry Reid's office on securing the grant.

The University's second Tier-1 transportation initiative will investigate seismic and other extreme load effects on prefabricated bridges used in accelerated bridge construction - a novel technique that allows quicker and more efficient rebuilding of bridges after damaging earthquakes. The project is an outgrowth of the University's world-renowned bridge engineering and large-structures earthquake engineering programs that conduct innovative bridge design with worldwide impact.

"The world class earthquake engineering laboratory here at the University allows us to investigate bridge seismic performance at a level that no other lab in the country can match," Saiid Saiidi, principal investigator for the University's portion of the collaborative work, said.

With a budget of $800,000 over two years, Saiidi will work with fellow civil engineering professor Ahmad Itani, the co-principal investigator at the University's center, and a group of post-doctoral students and research assistants. The accelerated bridge construction transportation center is led by the Florida International University who, along with Iowa State University, will study other aspects of the bridge technology.

The University of Nevada, Reno is the only research center in the program to address the issue of extreme loading in accelerated bridge construction. Use of prefabricated bridge elements substantially saves time of the traveling public and results in safer bridges. Despite the tremendous advantage of the technology, it is not used in California, Nevada and other moderate and high seismic states due to a lack of research.

Saiidi and a large number of doctoral research assistants have been investigating conventional and innovative methods of accelerated bridge construction in the past 10 years through multiple research grants from the National Science Foundation and the California Department of Transportation to remove inherent hurdles that prevent widespread use of the technology.

Four of these projects are currently in progress. Through the Florida grant, these projects will be expanded and integrated with the ultimate goal of widespread implementation of the technology in areas with high potential for seismic events, hurricanes, and storms, among others.

"The success with these major competitive centers is a seminal contribution to the vision of the College of Engineering to achieve measurable national recognition as one of the best programs of its class and is consistent with the top-50 ranking of our civil engineering program," Maragakis said.


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