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Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU) — a HBCU — will lead a consortium overseeing $40 million in research, education and workforce development, and technology transfer related to the transformation of the US’ transportation infrastructure. 

By Angie Schmitt 

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Texas’ Prairie View A&M University made history when it was named the winner of a $20 million federal research grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Centers (UTC) Program in February. It was the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) to win a national-level funding award to lead a UTC consortium.  

The National Center for Infrastructure Transportation (NCIT) led by PVAMU will have Arizona State University, Blinn College District, Michigan State University, Rutgers University, Texas A&M Transportation Institute, and Texas A&M University as members. The consortium will be responsible for “developing and transferring into practice new cutting-edge transformative research that aligns with the statutory research priority to improve the durability and extending the life of our nation’s transportation infrastructure.”  

InfraTalk reached out to Prairie View A&M University’s Civil & Environmental Engineering Department Professor & TAMUS Regents Professor, Dr. Judy Perkins, to learn more about what’s happening at the forefront of NCIT and what her consortium partners hope will come from the five-year grant (which will be matched 50 percent through other funding sources).  

InfraTalk America: At Prairie View A&M University and in your department is there a specific area of focus you are well known for? 

Dr. Judy Perkins: Over the span of my career in academia, my research has focused on asset management, military transportation logistics, hurricane evacuation analysis, engineering education, minority outreach, and the optimization of transportation infrastructure investments. 

So was it exciting for your university and your department to win this grant? 

Dr. Judy Perkins: Yes, it is very exciting for the state of Texas, Prairie View A&M University, the Roy G. Perry College of Engineering, and the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department to secure this grant.  

My understanding is you do not know exactly what projects the consortium will pursue at this time; is this correct? 

Dr. Judy Perkins: I do have full knowledge of all the projects/programs the consortium is proposing to pursue under the National Center for Infrastructure Transformation. However, I shall refrain from releasing the specifics given that this interview occurs prior to PVAMU signing an executable contract agreement with the US Department of Transportation UTC Program. 

Are you able to say a little more generally what kind of questions you will be delving into with these funds? 

Dr. Judy Perkins: The research questions will continue to evolve over the life of NCIT. However, they will all be solutions to problems within our three core research topical pillars:  

(1) Infrastructure durability and resilience – increasing the life span and resiliency of transportation by uncovering better ways to design, build, and maintain all modes of the transportation infrastructure,  

(2) Technology – addressing the impacts and potential benefits of technological innovation that includes connected and automated vehicles, and  

(3) Policy – improving resource allocation as well as appropriate ways to include equity and social justice considerations into the overall transportation decision-making process. 

To support our three core research topical pillars, we will work to develop a community of diverse transportation professionals. In addition, the commercialization of our project/program results will be a key element to NCIT’s success. Stakeholders from private industry and the public sector will participate in some of the research projects. The expectation is that we will transition our knowledge into practical applications so they can be readily used.  

Who are the beneficiaries of your research? 

Dr. Judy Perkins: As stated earlier, our stakeholders from the private industry — construction companies, material manufacturers, technology companies — and the public sector —federal agencies, other transportation modal agencies, state Departments of Transportation, metropolitan planning organizations, local transportation agencies in cities, towns, and counties throughout each state — will participate in various research projects. They will certainly be direct beneficiaries of NCIT’s project/program deliverables. Other beneficiaries of NCIT’s research will be academia, professional associations, and tribal communities, to name a few. 

What are you hoping is going to come out of this in a big picture sense? 

Dr. Judy Perkins: PVAMU, along with its NCIT partners, will build capacity and capability across engineering/non-engineering disciplines over a five-year period and beyond. We will lead the charge for addressing the nation’s infrastructure at both the interstate and intrastate levels, as well as the transportation needs of the future. Through a single grant, we will invest in students (undergraduate, graduate, and professionals). The return on that investment will yield dividends within the transportation community, both immediately and for years to come.  

Awesome. Congrats and thank you for speaking with us!