DOT Seeks to Designate Two New University Transportation Centers

September 27, 2018

On September 21, the USDOT announced the availability of new grants for two additional University Transportation Centers (UTCs). UTCs conduct research, provide education and workforce development, and deliver technology transfer to potential users. One of the centers will conduct research around “congestion relief” and one around “improving the durability and extending the life of transportation infrastructure.” The awardees will receive $7,500,000 each over three fiscal years.

Federal law (most recently restated in section 6016 of the FAST Act) describes three kinds of UTCs: national (which get grants of between $2 and $4 million per fiscal year), regional ($1.5 to $3 million per FY) and Tier 1 ($1 to $2 million per year).

Funds for UTCs are authorized under the FAST Act and awardees are chosen by the Secretary of Transportation in consultation with the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, and the Administrator of FHWA. The program began in 1988 solely as a research program, with education and technology transfer elements added under ISTEA in 1991. The program allows for universities to undertake multi-year innovative research on topics of critical interest to USDOT, while developing the future workforce and disseminating research results. Prior to Congress banning earmarks in 2011, UTCs were generally selected via Congressional earmarking (see section 5401 of SAFETEA-LU for an example). But starting in 2012, selections for new UTCs have been made on a competitive basis.

The omnibus fiscal 2018 appropriations act appropriated an extra $15 million for the UTC program (in addition to the FAST Act contract authority that supports the program). The bill’s explanatory statement said that the money was for “competitive grants for a national center for congestion research, focusing on congestion relief, and a national center for infrastructure research, focusing on improving the durability and extending the life of transportation infrastructure.”

USDOT awarded three Universities $2,570,600 each in the first round of grants in June of this year for regional UTCs, all of which will conduct infrastructure-related research.  Round 1 awardees included:

  • Region 1: University of Maine – Transportation Infrastructure Durability Center
  • Region 2: Rutgers University – Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation
  • Region 3: Pennsylvania State University – Center for Integrated Asset Management for Multi-modal Transportation Infrastructure Systems

Letters of intent of are on October 12, 2018; applications are due December 3.

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