Federal Grant Fast-Tracks UA Connected-Vehicles Research

UA Engineering researchers are partnering on a $15 million multi-university project to improve mobility of people and goods.

Smart transportation research in the College of Engineering is accelerating fast with the UA’s role in a $15.6 million multi-university award from the U.S. Department of Transportation, announced on Dec. 5, 2016.

“We join a strong team with an established record of significant research in the improvement of mobility in our cities,” said Larry Head, professor of systems and industrial engineering and director of the UA Transportation Research Institute.

Larry HeadHead is among several UA researchers -- including four other Engineering faculty members -- partnering on the DOT grant with researchers at Portland State University, which is administering the award, University of Oregon, University of Utah, Oregon Institute of Technology and University of Texas at Arlington.

The grant designates Portland State’s National Institute for Transportation and Communities as one of five national University Transportation Centers, positioning the University of Arizona as an affiliate in a federally designated center.

“Our transportation faculty and students will have new opportunities to engage with researchers and students from the other partner institutions, share ideas and collaborate on research that is important to the future development of our livable cities,” said Head.

The UA Transportation Research Institute will receive nearly $450,000 the first year and at least $2 million over the five-year grant period, plus matching funds from state departments of transportation, local governments, foundations and businesses.

Engineering Smart Cities

UA researchers are leading three projects -- two based in the College of Engineering and one in the College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture, or CAPLA.

Chris NelsonArthur C. Nelson, an urban planning and real estate professor in CAPLA, is principal investigator of the DOT award. His team is exploring ways to make transportation systems of the future accessible to people at all income levels who live in urban areas.

Head’s team, building on the success of the Arizona Connected Vehicle Test Bed in Anthem, Arizona, a suburb of Phoenix, is designing the smart platform for a connected-vehicle infrastructure and intelligent traffic signal system in Portland, Oregon.

The prototype intelligent traffic signal system in Anthem uses vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications that enable traffic signals to prioritize emergency and public transit vehicles, commercial trucks, cyclists and pedestrians. 

Head has been principal investigator on more than 10 major transportation-related projects and was appointed to the governor’s Arizona Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee, which is supporting research and development of self-driving cars and advising the state transportation department on testing and operating the vehicles on public roads.

The third UA project, led by Yi-Chang Chiu, associate professor in civil engineering and engineering mechanics, is evaluating options for improved transit mobility, including subsidies, carpooling, ride-sharing and bike-sharing programs.

Read more about the UA's participation in the Department of Transportation award.