As I wrote yesterday, my TRB-week kicked off with a High Speed Rail Workshop last Sunday. Another TRB event that I was happy to participate in that day was the 25th anniversary celebration of our University Transportation Centers program.
The purpose of these Centers, or UTCs, is to advance U.S. technology and expertise in the many
forms of transportation that make up our national system; to provide a strong transportation knowledge base outside DOT; and to address vital workforce needs for the next generation of transportation leaders.
Throughout our nation’s history, transportation innovations such as the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the automobile, and the Federal Interstate Highway System have all had a distinctive American quality, and they’ve made us who we are today by literally giving us greater access to opportunity. These improvements wouldn’t be possible without a strong and vibrant academic community. Our academic institutions are the heart of innovation in transportation. And DOT has been proud to work with educators and researchers to support our nation’s transportation goals.
Over the last 25 years, the University Transportation Centers program operated by our Research and Innovative Technology Administration has been DOT's vital link to a pipeline of knowledge and new talent. I know the same holds true for the state transportation agencies and industry leaders who also work closely with UTCs.
For example, the research conducted by UTCs has been critical to helping end our distracted driving epidemic by making us aware of the time and attention sending a text or making a call takes away from driving. A 2012 Rahall Transportation Institute study identified substantial economic benefits from public-private partnerships for construction of the I-73/74 National Highway System Corridor in West Virginia. And a transit-focused research study from the University of South Florida helped develop a mobile application that helps riders with disabilities navigate transit systems in Florida.
UTCs have educated some of the nation’s brightest minds—men and women who’ve made lasting contributions to transportation and beyond. Every dollar spent on the UTC program pays dividends throughout the nation long after the diplomas are handed out.
President Obama has made Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education a priority for this Administration. He knows that jobs in math and science are in demand—and that America needs to prepare the next generation for careers using these skills.
As we look ahead, DOT stands ready to continue working with the nation’s UTCs to pursue the next big idea—and to continue building a transportation system that is the envy of the world. In fact, last month we announced the competition for our next round of UTC grants. That competition is open until March 19, 2013.
Congratulations to everyone who has worked with this terrific program. It's been a very productive 25 years, and we at DOT look forward to many more.