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OU Selected by Department of Transportation to Lead Center for Climate-focused Transportation Solutions

April 3, 2023

Department of Transportation Selects OU to Lead Center

From left, Royce Floyd, Renee McPherson, Musharraf Zaman, Arif Sadri and Michael Molina.The Department of Transportation has selected the University of Oklahoma to lead a regional University Transportation Center that focuses on improving the durability and extending the life of the country’s transportation infrastructure.

OU is one of 34 universities nationwide selected in the 2022 University Transportation Center competition. Located on the OU Norman campus, scholars at the Southern Plains Transportation Center will receive $3 million per year, matched by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, for research leading to climate change mitigation in the transportation sector.

According to the Department of Transportation's strategic plan, the U.S. infrastructure needs to catch up with growing transportation needs to maintain economic strength and compete in a global market. At the same time, climate change presents a significant and growing risk to the safety, effectiveness, equity and sustainability of the transportation infrastructure and its communities.

Center director Musharraf Zaman, Ph.D., a professor in both the Gallogly College of Engineering and the Mewbourne School of Petroleum Geological Engineering, notes that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is a strong partner committed to the program. (Photo: From left, Royce Floyd, Renee McPherson, Musharraf Zaman, Arif Sadri and Michael Molina.)

Oklahoma is a member of the Department of Transportation’s Region 6, composed of Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arkansas and Louisiana. “From 2012-2021, Region 6 states spent $25 billion annually to combat climate extremes. With five of the nation’s Top 7 cargo ports located on Region 6 coasts, weather and climate extremes threaten economic growth and trigger social and supply-chain disruptions,” said Renee McPherson, Ph.D., university director of the South Central Climate Adaptation Center, who serves as co-director of the Southern Plains Transportation Center.

Researchers from five states are involved in the effort. Consortium members are El Paso Community College, Louisiana State University, Louisiana Tech University, Navajo Technical University, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M University/Texas Transportation Institute, Texas Southern University, the University of Arkansas, the University of New Mexico, the University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas El Paso.

The consortium’s proposal took over a year to finalize, says Royce Floyd, Ph.D., an associate professor in the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science. 

“The proposal and the planning behind it played a huge role in securing the grant,” Floyd said. “But the most important thing was getting the right team with the strengths needed to address these large problems, which took much of the time.”

The award also helps the next generation of transportation professionals build roads, bridges and rails that make for safer shipping.

Arif Sadri, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science, plays a key role in creating a synergy between the center’s research thrust areas and student-centric leadership activities for the next generation of transportation scholars.

“The next generation of transportation scholars is essential because if you think of the transportation workforce, it is running short of the requirements needed at a state level,” Sadri said “In addition, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation is running short of engineers that can help them with the many projects they must complete, so this is a great opportunity for us.”

As workforce development and outreach coordinator, Michael Molina, Ph.D., the Oklahoma Transportation Library librarian, will focus on creating a Regional Knowledge Management Center. 

“We are facing a crisis in the Oklahoma Department of Transportation,” Molina said. “Because of an aging workforce and so many people retiring, all tacit knowledge and institutional knowledge often isn't written down. When these seasoned professionals retire, they take decades of experience with them.”

Molina hopes the new Regional Knowledge Management Center will help alleviate some of these problems. “We want to mitigate and increase the efficiency of transportation organizations through our Knowledge Management Center.”

The project goes beyond breakthrough research. “We want to educate, not just conduct research. So, education and workforce development are an extremely important component of the work we do at the center,” Zaman said.

About the Southern Plains Transportation Center: The vision of the Southern Plains Transportation Center is to be a strong, diverse and inclusive consortium dedicated to finding innovative, cost-effective, deployable and equity-focused solutions to pressing transportation infrastructure durability problems in Region 6 while producing highly trained and skilled transportation professionals. Learn more.

About the Gallogly College of Engineering: Engineering has been part of the University of Oklahoma since 1908. Today, the Gallogly College of Engineering is organized into seven schools and is one of the largest colleges on the Norman campus. Learn more.

By Lorene A. Roberson, Gallogly College of Engineering