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Environmental Sciences

Expo Showcases Transportation Research at UVM

Release Date: 05-26-2010

Author: Jon C. Reidel
Email: Jon.Reidel@uvm.edu
Phone: 802/656-8206 Fax: (802) 656-3203

TRI expo

A view from the second floor of Farrell Hall on Trinity Campus shows faculty, students and members of the community at the 3rd Annual Transportation Research Expo 2010 listening to presentations by researchers who combined to produce 34 projects focused on transportation-related social problems. (Photo: Kim Mercer)

When Lisa Aultman-Hall was hired three years ago as the founding director of the UVM Transportation Research Center, she stressed the importance of education and outreach, but made clear that interdisciplinary research focused on 21st century transportation-related social problems would be the foundation of the UVM Matrix Center.

True to her word, TRC has brought more than $3.5 million to the university in external grants; funded more than 70 graduate students through annual $28,000 awards; and brought together faculty in dozens of disciplines to produce some of the nation's most respected transportation-based research. Some of that research was on display May 12 at the third annual Transportation Research Expo at Farrell Hall on Trinity Campus where faculty, students and members of the community gathered to discuss 34 research projects funded through the TRC.

"The number one goal of mine and the center was to grow graduate education and research," said Aultman-Hall, who is a professor in the School of Engineering and adjunct professor in the Department of Community Development and Applied Economics. "We laid out a portfolio of research that was based on what we thought the key research questions for the 21st century should be. We weren't interested in producing quick and dirty answers, but defendable research that directly affects national policy."

Research on display at the Expo was broad in scope and touched on a variety of current transportation-related topics such as climate change, alternative energy, tailpipe emissions, environmental impacts of transportation, seasonal differences in travel, and tourism travel. Presenters reflected the collaborative and interdisciplinary approach of the center by representing dozens of departments ranging from engineering to sociology to rural development.

"This is a case of my horizons being totally expanded into an area that I now realize is very close to the work that I've been doing, but I never looked exactly at transportation," said Jane Kolodinsky, professor and chair of CDAE, during an interview on Vermont Public Radio. "I had done previous quality of life work, and once I started to look at the transportation literature, which I was not familiar with, all the familiar economic names came up that I studied during my Ph.D program at Cornell. I said, 'Hmm, we never really looked at transportation,' but the methodologies are similar and the questions they ask on the social sides of things are pretty similar; they just have a different vocabulary. So it has been a really interesting road to try and take language classes to speak across the disciplines, and that's perhaps one of the first obstacles in transdisciplinary research that we have to get over."

Kolodinsky's study presented at the expo titled "Mobility and Livability: Seasonal and Built Environment Impacts" focused on quality of life, mobility and demand for transportation in northern rural climates. Although the TRC has established itself in a number of transportation-related research areas, it has become nationally known among the approximately 90 university and college-based centers for its work on mobility, livability, and seasonality in rural areas. "We are definitely unique in this area and continue to look at the question of how we should transport ourselves in rural America," said Aultman-Hall, who came to UVM after serving as the director of the Connecticut Transportation Institute. "It's an exciting opportunity for the TRC to serve this vital role for Vermont and the other rural areas across the county."

The TRC serves as the host of the National University Transportation Center (UTC) and is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation as well as the Vermont Clean Cities Coalition, which is funded by the US Department of Energy and the Vermont Department of Public Service. Initial funding for the center was part of a federal highway bill co-authored by U.S. Sen. James M. Jeffords who secured $16 million for the project. UVM and several public and private partners will match the grant funds for a total investment of $32 million.

For further reading on the Transportation Research Expo 2010, read this article from the Burlington Free Press.

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