University Transportation Centers
University Transportation Centers
Total Annual Funding – $85.5 million authorized
Range of Project Costs – $10,000–2,200,000+
Statements Due – Varies by center
The University Transportation Centers (UTC) program was established in 1987 for the purpose of establishing federally funded university-based transportation centers for research, education, and training/outreach programs. Under the program, UTCs receive grant funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to educate the future transportation workforce and to conduct research to advance the field of transportation.
The program is currently authorized and funded from Title V and Title III of SAFETEA-LU and is administered by the U.S. DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA). The grants issued under Title V generally require a one-for-one non-federal match. Universities are encouraged to find local sources of match from state, local government, Tribal, or private sector partners (such as industry or non-profit organizations). However, certain federal funds authorized in SAFETEA-LU may be used as a matching source. Centers funded under Title III do not have a match requirement.
The ultimate product of the centers is a research program that reflects each individual institution’s thematic area, but also education and outreach (including continuing education and outreach responsibilities). Centers can choose to pursue a wide range of opportunities within the program. A complete list of the Centers and their thematic areas is available http://utc.dot.gov/list_of_centers/.
Overall program goals within the UTC Program’s legislated mission are established by U.S. DOT RITA in six key areas—each of which includes submission of annual performance measurement data dictated by the program guidelines. The six goals are human resources, education, research performance, research selection, diversity, and technology transfer. Centers prepare strategic plans at the beginning of a grant to describe how they will accomplish the six program goals. These strategic plans are reviewed by multimodal teams from the U.S. DOT and after they are approved the plans become the primary guiding document of each UTC during its grant.
Several documents have been developed to highlight the results of UTC funded research. These include a monthly UTC Spotlight Newsletter, an annual Spotlight Conference with the Transportation Research Board, and beginning in fall of 2008 a “Points of Pride” report on the highlights from the past year. In addition, several National centers have collaborated previously on the publication of a laboratory and resource guide describing the facilities available for transportation research and education at those UTCs. UTC directors participate in the Council of University Transportation Centers (CUTC), a private organization established to promote transportation research and education on a national basis.
Each Center operates on a grant year established by the institution. Under its strategic plan, each University Transportation Center has established its own procedures for selecting and administering research activities. These processes, by design and program guidance, all include significant peer review of research topics and ultimate reports. Each center also prepares an annual report detailing its activities. The U.S. DOT also provides ongoing management and oversight through routine site visits, review of reporting requirements, and regular participation in CUTC meetings and sponsored activities. There are currently 60 UTCs in 41 of the 50 states.
The University Transportation Centers (UTC) program, initiated in 1987 under the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act, authorized the establishment and operation of transportation centers in each of the 10 standard federal regions. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) reauthorized the UTCs for an additional six years and added four national centers and six University Research Institutes (URI). The mission of the 14 UTCs was to advance U.S. expertise and technology transfer. The six URIs each had a specific transportation research and development mandate.
In 1998 the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) reauthorized the UTC Program for an additional six years and increased the total number of Centers to 33. In addition to the ten regional Centers, which were to be selected competitively, TEA-21 created 23 other Centers at institutions named in the Act. TEA-21 established education as one of the primary objectives of a University Transportation Center and institutionalized the use of strategic planning in university grant management.
SAFETEA-LU brought with it a noteworthy expansion of the University Transportation Centers Program. From just over 30 operating centers under TEA-21, SAFETEA-LU created 60 centers in a variety of funding levels and scopes. National, Regional, Tier I, and Tier II centers were established. An additional eight centers were funded under Title III of the authorization bill.
Forty centers (national, Tier II, and Tier III) were designated to specific institutions and twenty (regional and Tier I) were awarded through competitions that were held in 2006. Many of the programs operate with consortia agreements, bringing the total number of universities involved to over 100.
TYPE OF RESEARCH FUNDED
As previously mentioned, each university transportation center is required to establish its own procedures for identifying, selecting and performing research tasks within the guidance provided by the U.S. DOT. In many cases, due to the matching requirements, the research programs are focused on applied research of value to specific state departments of transportation providing the necessary matching funding.
The National centers are tasked with the responsibility to outline the key national trends and collaborations around their selected research focus areas. Research in the regional centers is to be of value to the region, while the Tier I, Tier II, and Title III centers are expected to perform research according to their strategic plans.
FUNDING LEVELS AND PROJECT TIME FRAME
Centers are funded at a variety of levels. Tier II centers have an annual operating budget of approximately $500,000 plus an equal amount of matching funds, while national centers operate at authorized amounts of $7 million including Federal plus matching funds.
Individual research or education project activities can range from $10,000–15,000 to larger multi-year projects awarded at over $2.2 million. The projects all follow the research selection process identified in each center’s strategic plan and the timeline of the adopted grant year.
The following chart shows the authorized funding levels for National, Regional, Tier I, and Tier II Centers. The remaining eight Tier III centers are funded at varying levels and time frames.
Authorized Funding Level (FY05–FY09)
$2.0 million (FY05), $3.5 million (FY06–09)
$1.0 million (FY05), $2.0 million (FY06–08), $2.25 million (FY09)
The specific federal programs that are eligible matching sources are:
- Title 23 Sec. 503 – Technology Deployment
- Title 23 Sec. 504(b) – Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP)
- Title 23 Sec. 505 – State Planning and Research (SP&R)
A Transportation Pooled Fund (TPF) study is one of the most efficient ways for a state to support projects at a UTC, especially if the UTC is in another state.
Schedules vary by center. Some operate on a federal fiscal year, others correspond to state fiscal years, and others operate on calendar years. Provided for an example is the schedule for the National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education (CFIRE) at the University of Wisconsin.
- August – Call for pre-proposals and RFPs submitted
- October–November – Project pre-proposals submitted to Signature Area Technical Review Group chairs for peer review, prioritization, and recommendation to Advisory Committee
- December – Advisory Committee meets to invite full proposals; Advisory Committee is given estimated budgets for each signature area based on leveraged funds
- January–February – Invited researchers; prepare full proposals
- March – Full proposals submitted for review by project committees and approval of contracts
- July – Executive Committee Meeting to update signature areas and generate ideas for RFPs
- July 1 or October 1 – Projects start (progress monitored by quarterly teleconference)
PROJECT SOLICITATION AND SUBMISSION
As noted previously, each individual center has its own procedures for soliciting research ideas and selecting research activities. Project solicitation is expected to follow a center’s strategic plan and is required to reflect the thematic area of the center.
Each individual center has a unique selection process, with the ability to award research typically residing in the Director of the center or a center advisory board. In nearly all cases, an advisory committee is established to provide input to the Director.
Each project proposal must be subjected to peer review. The process for peer review varies from center to center. The selection process also includes at least one individual from U.S. DOT.
PROJECTS SELECTION CRITERIA AND TIPS FOR WRITING WINNING RESEARCH STATEMENTS
Centers establish their own criteria for review. In many cases, only principal investigators from the participating consortium institutions are eligible for project awards.
Following selection, research summaries are required. These summaries are posted on the center Web site and distributed to the RITA program administration. At project completion, the final report must also be posted on the program Web site.
The UTC Website has up-to-date information about the UTC program, links to each of the center Web sites, and identifies the focuses of the 60 UTCs.
Each center Web site—a requirement of the program—contains information related to the completed projects, the ongoing activities, and past annual reports. Each center is required to put its research information into the TRB Research in Progress database and the Transportation Research Information Service database.
The Council of University Transportation Centers hosts additional information related to university-based transportation research, including members of the UTC program. For more information on the UTC program, contact:
Director of the UTC program for the U.S. DOT
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