FAST Act Spells New Opportunities for University-Based Transportation Research
In December 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act into law, marking the first time in 10 years that Congress has passed a long-term transportation bill.
The bipartisan, bicameral, five-year legislation authorizes more than $300 billion to improve vital infrastructure, including roads, bridges, transit systems, and the passenger rail network. Additionally, the FAST Act enhances federal safety programs for highways, public transportation, passenger rail, and more, and seeks to promote forward-looking transportation initiatives, including advanced transportation and congestion management technologies and autonomous vehicles.
“The language of the FAST Act promotes the development and installation of cutting-edge transportation technologies,” said Lei Zhang, Director of the University of Maryland National Transportation Center (NTC@Maryland) and an associate professor with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “This bill has specific provisions that support the deployment of connected vehicle and autonomous vehicle technologies. University of Maryland and other institutions could play a major role in advancing the research and deployment of these new technologies with funding authorized by the FAST Act.”
In efforts to support an efficient and safe surface transportation system, the FAST Act promotes policies that accelerate far-reaching multimodal transportation research by promoting innovation and competitive market-based outcomes. Even more, the act alone dedicates more than $3 billion to transportation research in its five-year lifespan, nearly $400 million of which is specifically designated for the University Transportation Center (UTC) program. Universities are also eligible to compete for federal and federal flow-through research funding authorized through other program in the FAST Act.
As one of only five incumbent National UTCs, NTC@Maryland conducts expansive research in many of the areas spotlighted in the act: freight mobility and reliability, multimodal solutions to congestion, Intelligent Transportation Systems, safety, sustainable transportation, smart cities, state of good repairs, and more.
“The FAST Act is a milestone achievement in that Members of Congress worked across the aisle to ensure a dire need was met: the need for investment in our nation’s infrastructure and the greater future of transportation,” Zhang said. “For so long, our Congress has relied on short-term transportation funding measures, and this placed burdens on states and local governments looking to push progressive transportation initiatives and infrastructure projects. This long-term bill also helps universities strategize on their own interdisciplinary transportation research initiatives in the next five years and beyond. The University of Maryland has been a strong leader in transportation research with a top-five program in research and funding, and should certainly aim to play a leadership role in assisting the federal government and Maryland to reach their long-term transportation infrastructure system goals.”
There are myriad reasons Members of Congress will want to pursue a more permanent, sustainable alternative for funding our nation’s transportation and infrastructure needs,” Zhang continued. “Until then, however, the FAST Act offers an solid step towards improving our nation’s transportation systems and advancing our capabilities to resolve issues relating to congestion, safety, logistics, and environmental concerns in the transportation sector.”
Among the many FAST Act highlights pertinent to NTC@Maryland and the UTC program are expanded funding for bridges, buses, roadway and railway safety measures, and pedestrian and bicycle programs; emphasis on transportation education; and the creation of new programs to focus transportation funding for today’s most traveled railways and highways regarded as “freight corridors.”
The NTC@Maryland is organizing a campus-wide workshop on a possible interdisciplinary Transportation Research Initiative at UMD in late February 2016 to discuss this and many other new funding opportunities for transportation research from NSF, NIH, DOE, DHS, NIST, state agencies and the private sector. The Transportation Engineering Program in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering alone generates more than $20 million external funding each year, showing strong external funding support to transportation research. Like other new federal transportation funding programs, the research challenges and goals outlined in the FAST ACT would require multidisciplinary research collaboration that could potentially be of interest to many faculty at UMD across all colleges and schools. For more information about the Transportation Research Initiative Workshop at UMD, please contact Mark Franz, NTC@Maryland Assistant Director of Outreach and Technology Transfer.
One such NTC@Maryland project that drives home the importance of advanced transportation technology is the center’s Integrated, Personalized, Real-time Traveler Information and Incentive (iPretii) technology. Earlier this year, NTC@Maryland was awarded a $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) to develop this groundbreaking technology that will provide real-time travel information to users and incentivize energy-efficient travel. More information about other research activities at NTC@Maryland is available online.
Published January 20, 2016