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Auburn University Establishes Transportation Research Institute

As the Southeast’s leader in transportation research and education, Auburn University is taking another step forward with the formation of the Auburn University Transportation Research Institute.

The institute, hosted and supported within Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, will provide greater visibility and a shared identity for all transportation-related and educational programs at the university. It will foster continued growth and expansion of Auburn’s rich history in its transportation research programs, ranging from advanced roadway design, aviation systems, next generation vehicles and transportation related logistics. It will also help elevate these programs to a position of greater national prominence based on the scholarship generated by its participating faculty.

The institute will serve as an umbrella organization for units that are heavily involved in transportation research, including the National Center for Asphalt Technology, or NCAT, and its affiliated asphalt test track, the Highway Research Center, the Alabama Transportation Assistance Program and the GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, or GAVLAB. In fiscal year 2020, these various centers secured a combined total of more than $24 million in extramural funding for research, education and outreach

efforts. This level of extramural funding for transportation is greater than any other single research topic on the Auburn campus. 

“While each of these programs has proven to be highly productive individually, we believe that the time is right to create an administrative structure that will heighten our stature as a powerful force in transportation research and subsequently enhance our ability to produce even more growth in our transportation research programs,” said Steve Taylor, associate dean for engineering research.

Auburn’s research and education in transportation engineering dates back to the inception of a civil engineering program nearly 150 years ago. Auburn has hosted the annual Alabama Transportation Conference every year since 1958, allowing engineering researchers and practitioners to share innovative advances in transportation planning, engineering design and construction with state and federal highway personnel, county engineers, consulting engineers, construction contractors and construction material vendors.

Auburn strengthened its commitment to deliver engineering solutions to transportation challenges for the Alabama Department of Transportation, or ALDOT, in 1985 with the creation of the Auburn University Highway Research Center. The center, led by director Anton Schindler and supported through the work of faculty in civil engineering, has contributed advancements to the transportation sector that include: development of and guidance for the application of high performance concrete in bridges, new designs for upgrading the structural capacity of steel girder bridges, new bridge load rating methods, new bridge foundation designs and construction guidelines, new sonic testing methods and scour screening tools for bridge foundations and new procedures to apply fiber-reinforced polymers in repairs of Alabama bridges, all of which have saved Alabama taxpayers countless millions of dollars in road and bridge construction and maintenance costs.

In 1986, in partnership with the National Asphalt Pavement Association Research and Education Foundation, Auburn created the National Center for Asphalt Technology, or NCAT, to provide practical research and development to meet the needs of maintaining America’s highway infrastructure. NCAT, led by Director Randy West, provides the most comprehensive asphalt pavement research program in the United States that attracts millions of dollars in research funding each year from outside of the state of Alabama.

The Alabama Transportation Assistance Program, or ATAP, led by Director Rod Turochy and working in conjunction with the Highway Research Center, is an organization created to bring the newest developments in technology to state and local public works agencies in Alabama. ATAP combines the resources of three organizations: the U.S. Department of Transportation, ALDOT and Auburn University.

Training seminars are a significant part of ATAP using the expertise of professionals from throughout the region. Seminar topics covered in the past have included value engineering, public works management, railroad highway grade crossing improvements, local road supervisor skills, standards for land surveyors, retaining wall design, slope maintenance, traffic control in construction, maintenance and utility operations, storm water control and management techniques. Seminars are taught at locations throughout Alabama. 

In 2001, Auburn’s Department of Mechanical Engineering created the GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory, or GAVLAB. The GAVLAB focuses on the control and navigation of vehicles using GPS in conjunction with other sensors, such as inertial navigation system sensors. The laboratory has several research thrusts including: sensor fusion/integration, on-line system identification, adaptive and robust control algorithms and vehicle state and parameter estimation. These research thrusts are focused on vehicle dynamics and transportation, including heavy trucks, passenger cars, off-road vehicles, as well as autonomous and unmanned vehicles. The laboratory supports the largest single group of graduate students in the College of Engineering, and it’s led by David Bevly, the Bill and Lana McNair Professor of Mechanical Engineering.

The work of NCAT is supported by ALDOT and the transportation departments of many other states, saving these organizations an estimated $160 million per year. NCAT operates the nation’s premier, full-scale asphalt testing center and a 1.7-mile oval test track that has seen nearly 10 million miles of heavy traffic, which has led to advancements in pavement design, construction and maintenance across the country.

This group consistently secures funding of approximately $4 million per year, and its research sponsors include manufacturers of automotive, industrial, agricultural, forest and construction equipment. A significant portion of their research is sponsored by various groups within the Department of Defense and provides a variety of engineering solutions for positioning, navigation and timing across all branches of the military.

Through the years, Auburn’s Highway Research Center, NCAT, ATAP and the GAVLAB, coupled with numerous collaborating units at the university, have established themselves as the foremost entities in the state of Alabama and the region to provide engineering solutions that advance safe, durable and sustainable asphalt pavements, roadways, bridges, transportation infrastructure and vehicle guidance and automation technologies. These groups have developed and sustained education and outreach programs to improve transportation systems for the citizens of Alabama through education of Auburn students, state and federal highway personnel, engineering consultants, the highway construction industry and the vehicle manufacturing sector.

These engineering researchers are highly qualified and recognized globally for their expertise in subjects such as highway safety, road and bridge design and performance, pavements and autonomous vehicles. Their collaboration across the campus community will further enhance the university’s transportation research endeavors.

“This institute will be the vehicle to move Auburn’s transportation programs to the forefront of innovation and competitiveness through the 21st century,” said Jim Weyhenmeyer, Auburn’s vice president for research and economic development. “Transportation problems of the future will involve multidisciplinary work, and the Auburn University Transportation Research Institute will move Auburn into position to solve these real-world problems.”

Press courtesy of Auburn University

Austin Phillips | Samuel Ginn College of Engineering

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