By Trisha Radulovich
Researchers from a consortium of six institutions led by the Florida A&M University have secured a five-year grant for $2 million per year from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to establish a new Tier One University Transportation Center (UTC) at the FAMU.
The Rural Equitable and Accessible Transportation (REAT) Center is an idea born from a proposal from several researchers affiliated with the joint engineering program at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.
“The REAT Center is going to focus on core issues of mobility challenges for people in rural communities, which are increasingly marked by growing diversity and expanding inequities within and across regions,” said Center Director Ren Moses, Ph.D., a civil engineering professor.
The grant is part of $435 million in national awards from the USDOT to 34 University Transportation Centers (UTC) to advance research and education programs that address critical transportation challenges in the U.S. FAMU secured one of only two grants awarded to universities in the State of Florida.
“Transportation research solutions proposed for urban and suburban transportation needs – for instance, connected and automated vehicles – are transferrable to rural areas, but the efficacy of implementing those solutions necessitates a concerted and focused approach to understanding the needs of diverse rural populations,” Moses said.
Those being targeted are senior citizens, minorities, and economically disadvantaged persons who live in rural areas.
FAMU is leading a consortium with five partners, including Florida State University, Cleveland State University, Suny Stony Brook University, the University of Washington, and Tallahassee Community College. UTCs are located throughout the U.S. and conduct research critical to the priorities of the USDOT.
“The funding from the USDOT demonstrates that our dedication to research and education is acknowledged at the highest level on the national stage,” said Dean of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering Suvranu De, Ph.D. “We are proud of the work we are doing and the partnerships we have forged with other universities.”
The next generation of diverse transportation researchers at these centers will help Americans travel safer, faster, and at a reduced cost. The REAT Center will foster new opportunities for social mobility and the growth of underrepresented and first-generation college students from low-income households.
“FAMU students will have new and expanding opportunities through this new research center,” FAMU Vice President of Research Charles Weatherford, Ph.D., said. “The U.S. is at an inflection point in transportation—the application of increasingly effective AI to transportation will revolutionize the way all transportation operates including supply chain modalities. More minority engineers will get the necessary training to make a greater impact on this revolution by participating in the research and our nation’s workforce.”
Research projects through REAT will expand access to transportation and improve safety in rural communities, especially for vulnerable populations. The Center will grow the infrastructure needed to be more resilient in a natural disaster, an initiative that complements the Resilient Infrastructure & Disaster Response Center (RIDER), at the College.
Eren Ozguven, director of the RIDER Center and associate director of the REAT, is working with Moses on issues involving transportation resilience specific to natural disasters.
“The RIDER center specializes in resilience for disasters and part of it involves evacuations,” Ozguven said. “Rural areas don’t always have the infrastructure in place for our most vulnerable to successfully evacuate. This is one of the issues the REAT Center can help us with.”