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Full speed ahead


Christian Basi

The Missouri Center for Transportation Innovation will combine academic research with industry partners, other stakeholders to create novel transportation solutions

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Innovative solutions are needed to address crumbling roads and bridges across Missouri. A new collaborative center within the University of Missouri System hopes to accelerate the future of transportation-related research by connecting academic minds and industry leaders.

The Missouri Center for Transportation Innovation (MCTI), led by University of Missouri-Columbia for the first three years, will share academic research from each of the four UM System universities — MU, University of Missouri-Kansas City, Missouri University of Science and Technology and University of Missouri-St. Louis — with the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to maximize the impact of state-funded transportation research, and to attract large-scale, federal grants to pursue research on the cutting edge of transportation. Built around a common theme of innovation, MCTI research interests will include connected and autonomous vehicles; transportation safety; advanced materials for pavements and bridges; recycling and sustainability; resilience; big data in transportation; congestion relief; and transportation policy and economics.

“Combining the strengths of the UM System universities with MoDOT through the MCTI is a clear expression of our  mission to foster research that benefits the people of Missouri, the nation, and the world,” UM System President Mun Choi said. “Building effective connections between our universities and the state will accelerate research breakthroughs and support economic development and improve transportation safety.”

The base funding for MCTI will be provided through the MoDOT state planning and research funding. 

Bill Buttlar, the Glen Barton Chair in Flexible Pavements at the MU College of Engineering, will serve as the center’s director for its first three years, joined by John J. Myers, professor of civil engineering and associate dean of the College of Engineering and Computing at Missouri Science and Technology as the deputy director. John Kevern, professor of civil and mechanical engineering at University of Missouri Kansas-City and Jill Bernard Bracy, assistant teaching professor in the College of Business Administration and assistant director of program development for the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, will also help lead MCTI by serving on the center’s operations cabinet. 

“We believe the center is poised for rapid growth,” Buttlar said. “Building initially on a platform of successful state-funded projects, we will be able to attract more investors thereby growing the number and size of research projects in the center. Once established, we can go to industry partners, other stakeholders and governmental agencies to leverage our resources and capabilities. If successful, Missouri will be recognized as a hotbed for national transportation research and innovation.”

Buttlar estimates less than a quarter of U.S. states have similarly formalized transportation partnerships between higher education and state and local agencies. In addition, national funding agencies have trended toward supporting more collaborative and interdisciplinary efforts over the last several years.

“National funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation, Federal Highway Administration and U.S. Department of Transportation are looking to fund the kinds of projects that only large-scale partnerships such as the MCTI can handle,” Buttlar said. “Now, instead of competing for those funds as individual agencies, the MCTI can use its collective power to make a more compelling case for funding. This places Missouri at the cutting edge of transportation improvements and opens the door for key innovations that will have a direct impact on all its citizens.”

Myers notes that new transportation-related laboratories at both Missouri S&T and UMKC will also help facilitate the expansion of transportation-related research capabilities at all four UM System universities. For example, next spring the $6.5 million Clayco Advanced Construction and Materials Laboratory (ACML), currently under construction at Missouri S&T, will combine civil infrastructure testing and analysis techniques – specialties of their High-bay Structures Laboratory – with the development of new infrastructure materials and construction methods in the ACML.

“We are well positioned to address our ever-expanding transportation needs,” Myers said. “The four-campus collaboration with MoDOT will form a transportation research network with national and international leaders that has broad capabilities to address challenges now and in the future.”

In addition to attracting future funding for research efforts, the center will serve as an opportunity for engineering students to have real-world experiences while training to be the next generation of civil engineers.

“The Missouri Center for Transportation Innovation will provide robust training for educating the engineering leaders of tomorrow,” said Elizabeth Loboa, dean of the College of Engineering and vice chancellor for strategic partnerships. “Federally sourced research funds allocated to the Missouri Department of Transportation will flow through the center, which is estimated to be $2.75 million annually.”

Buttlar hopes the collaborative nature of the MCTI will lead to groundbreaking solutions for civil infrastructure, such as smart roads and smart materials. 

“Until recently, we only dreamed of the possibility to make our transportation systems truly ‘hi-tech,’ Buttlar said. “Now with advances in low-cost, advanced sensors, smart materials and machine learning, we can harvest large amounts of data from roads, bridges and vehicles, and use that data to improve the safety, longevity and sustainability of the transportation network in Missouri and beyond.”


Reviewed 2021-06-09