A Regional University Transportation Center Focused on Climate Adaptive Transportation and Freight Infrastructure
The Southern Plains Transportation Center (SPTC) is a consortium of eight universities from USDOT Region 6: The University of Oklahoma (OU is consortium lead), Oklahoma State University (OSU), Langston University (LU), University of Arkansas (UARK), The University of New Mexico (UNM), Louisiana Tech University (LTU), The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and Texas Tech University (TTU). Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (Mumbai, India) and Shandong University (Jinan, China) are two international collaborators. LU, UTEP and UNM are Minority Institutions of Higher Education. Both OSU and OU rank consistently as the nation’s top Native American Indian bachelor degree producers in engineering. With a “sharing to gain” culture and an annual budget of $2.6 Million from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and dollar-for-dollar match by non-federal sources, the SPTC provides a unique opportunity to develop comprehensive, cost-effective and implementable solutions to critical infrastructure issues facing the transportation systems of the region and the nation, and to prepare transportation professionals for leadership roles in the industry.
The SPTC’s mission is to develop comprehensive, cost-effective and imminently implementable solutions to critical infrastructure-related issues facing the transportation systems of the region and the nation, while preparing transportation professionals for leadership roles in technical and research careers in support of the nation’s infrastructure.
Climate Adaptive Transportation and Freight Infrastructure is the primary focus of SPTC’s research, education and workforce goals. Region 6 exhibits climate extremes from the tropical Gulf Coast through the drought-stricken High Plains to the arid Rocky Mountains. Region 6 is also noted for severe weather, such as: tornadoes, hurricanes, winter storms, flash floods, hailstorms, and high-intensity wind events. This weather results in hundreds of fatalities each year and causes significant economic and societal disruption. Freight movements across all modes including highways, rail and inland waterways are significantly impacted by weather extremes. To develop a resilient transportation infrastructure, an engineer must select structure type and materials and devise construction and maintenance measures that consider daily and long-term impacts of severe weather and climate extremes.
Consistent with our vision, the SPTC selected 27 research, education and outreach projects through a competitive and anonymous peer-review process. The selected research projects focus on one or more of the following topics: Impact of severe weather / climate extremes on transportation infrastructure; Weather / climate-resistant materials; Innovative technology to minimize impact of severe weather / climate extremes; Freight and surface transportation system modeling to address weather extremes; Maintenance and rehabilitation of infrastructure to withstand severe weather / climate extremes; Innovative monitoring and sensing technologies. The education and outreach projects are focused on: Developing innovative programs with a strong diversity-building component that encourages K-12 students, college students or adult learners to become transportation professionals; Developing creative professional programs for training transportation professionals to work and lead in a diverse workforce. Some examples of the selected projects are provided on the reverse side of this page.
In an OU-led project, researchers are developing innovative abutment systems that can accommodate large movements due to extreme temperature variations, and drainage system details that will tolerate differential settlements and function effectively over long periods of time without clogging. In an OSU-led project, researchers will employ innovative technologies, PaveVision3D, to obtain 3D pavement surface models with 1 mm resolution at highway speed. These models along with non-destructive testing will be a powerful tool for timely maintenance and preservation of pavements. In a collaborative project (OU-UNM), researchers are using innovative inter-connected vehicle technology to improve driver safety during severe weather. In another collaborative project (Tulsa University-UTEP), researchers are examining the effect of blowing dust on highway safety. UT-Austin and Arkansas State University researchers are evaluating the resistance of asphalt mixes with recycled materials to withstand extreme temperatures. In a LA-Tech project, researchers are evaluating the impact of severe drought on compacted expansive clays in northern Louisiana. The UARK team is examining the impact of extreme summer temperatures on bridges. The OSU education team is developing training materials for in-place recycling. The TTU education team is addressing the professional development of Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) teachers.
WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT AND OUTREACH
According to USDOT estimates, transportation agencies could face a workforce loss due to retirements of up to fifty percent by 2020. The SPTC is addressing this looming challenge through a comprehensive strategy geared to complimentary life-long learning themes of higher education, professional development, encouraging new ideas, new entrants to the profession and K-12 outreach. We introduce several new opportunities targeting under-represented groups, which include: a Regional Internship Program; Experiential and Service Learning Opportunities and Minority Scholarship and Recruiting. The SPTC is pursuing an effective outreach program through Summer Camps, a STEM Teacher’s Workshop and a Transportation Academy (Langston University). The Paving and Transportation Conference held at UNM and the Transportation-Climate Summit held at OU were both highly successful events in promoting outreach and collaboration.
TECH TRANSFER AND COLLABORATION
The SPTC is pursuing a well-coordinated and collaborative technology transfer program to maximize the benefits of innovations to technology users in Region 6 through partnerships with the DOT and industry, engagement with LTAP/TTAP and technology users. Funds are set aside for multi-institutional, collaborative research and education projects, internships training, and tech transfer events.
OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES
The SPTC is uniquely positioned to address some of the most challenging infrastructure and safety problems in Region 6 and the nation through a new level of collaboration and leadership. The recent Transportation-Climate Summit affirms the merit of transportation officials, planners, engineers and researchers interacting with weather and climate experts. Such interactions are extremely important to developing innovative and affordable technologies and a trained workforce to combat the infrastructure and safety challenges caused by severe weather and climate extremes. Industry funding and support are important to our long-term success, particularly in applied research, training and technology transfer. Resources are needed to fully integrate “just-in-time” forecasting and “now-casting” into the highly successful Virtual Transportation Management Center and to study how these innovative technologies can be used to make our roads safer and to save lives. Collaboration with the Transportation Safety Institute (TSI) in Oklahoma City is also a top priority of the SPTC.