A major focus of the RITA implementation of the SAFETEALU UTC program has been to improve the coordination among UTCs and to enhance the value of the UTC program to the US DOT. There is little doubt that the UTCs have been successful in producing research products and educational activities and technology transfer programs. However, the US DOT has not always been as aware of the work of the UTCs as it should have been. Similarly, the UTCs have not always been fully aware of US DOT's research and policy priorities when selecting projects and activities to fund. One consequence is a misperception by some that the UTCs are not providing value to the Department.
In order to improve the exchange of information between the UTCs and the Department, the UTC Program Office has undertaken a two-fold approach to directly sponsor a few selected activities and support initiatives by other DOT agencies to improve communication between the Department and the UTC community.
The Council of University Transportation Centers (CUTC) is a membership organization of university-based transportation research and education programs. Annually, RITA collaborates with CUTC on the joint sponsorship of the Outstanding Student of the Year Awards, in conjunction with CUTC's winter banquet held in January during the annual meeting of TRB. During 2005-2007, RITA conducted program-wide meetings for all UTC directors in concert with the regularly scheduled meetings of CUTC. Typically, during the summer gathering RITA's meeting is one day prior to CUTC's business meeting and in January RITA's meeting is up to 2 hours in duration as part of the overall CUTC business meeting. RITA meetings with the UTC directors took place on June 6, 2005 (MIT), January 22, 2006 (TRB), June 22, 2006 (Montana State), January 21,2007 (TRB) and June 13, 2007 (U. Wisconsin).
On April 11 and 12, 2006, RITA hosted a plenary meeting in Washington,DC, for all UTC directors to listen and respond to US DOT senior research officials who presented the research programs and policy priorities of each Operating Administration. The overarching view of all Departmental research gave the UTC directors the necessary background to respond to the UTC competitions conducted during summer 2006, prepare UTC strategic plans as well as connect with those research programs most closely aligned with the disciplinary expertise and subject-matter interests of the universities. UTC directors were also able to meet the officials and staff in each of the modal research offices.
In partnership with the Transportation Research Board, beginning in 2006 RITA has sponsored an annual spotlight conference in areas where there is significant federal interest as well as UTC research activity.
The conference objectives are to:
It is anticipated that these conferences will be held annually, usually in the fall. A different transportation issue or technology will be identified for each year. For 2008, the spotlight will be on the impact of changing sociodemographics on transportation patterns and needs.
The spotlight conferences for 2006 and 2007 are described in the boxes on the following page.
UTCs have been active participants in webinars sponsored by FHWA's Offices of International Programs and Policy Information in partnership with the Office of Freight Management and Operations and Office of Infrastructure.
Research Opportunities in Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Transportation Applications Conference - October 17-18, 2006, Washington, DC
This one-and-a-half day conference provided the forum to assess current research in applications of RFID technologies in transportation. Participants included university RFID researchers, students, government transportation professionals interested in current or potential RFID applications, and industry representatives working in RFID research and technology. The purpose of the conference was to:
Research Issues in Freight Transportation-Congestion and System Performance Conference -October 22-23, 2007, Washington, DC
At this 2-day conference, about 50 university researchers engaged an equal number of private sector executives and US DOT and State DOT representatives in a lively dialogue about the Nation's freight challenges and the role of transportation system performance in fostering economic productivity and efficiency.
Specific research needs were identified in the total costs of the supply chain and how the individual cost components and externalities influence transport decisions. While individual elements of the freight system are well known, additional work needs to undertaken in examining freight transportation from a system-wide perspective. The conference participants also noted that the university community is well suited to conduct research that is larger scale and cross-cutting, and applies new technologies and science. The academic community can also play an important role in addressing issues that are politically sensitive and require a neutral third-party with less direct vested interest in the implementation.
The Federal Highway Administration sponsored three workshops to discuss different aspects of their research program in order to encourage UTC working support of the FHWA research agenda.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) sponsored listening sessions for UTCs at various transit-related conferences, conventions, and meetings .These events included UTC focused meetings and other FTA meetings where UTCs were included.