BOZEMAN, Mont. -

The following is a news release from Montana State University.

The federal government has once again chosen the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University as a lead institution for its prestigious University Transportation Center program.

MSU is the only university in the Rocky Mountain region selected to lead one of these centers, which are funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation to foster research, education and outreach activities. 

WTI will create and lead the Small Urban and Rural Livability Center in partnership with the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University. Based at WTI headquarters at MSU, the SURLC will focus on transportation issues that improve the "livability" of small towns and rural regions, including: Expanding public transportation options; creating safe routes for bicyclists and pedestrians; improving access to key regional transportation hubs and destinations; and integrating all available modes of transportation.

The SURLC will have a two-year, $4.2 million budget, which includes $2.8 million in federal grant money from the U.S. DOT Research and Innovative Technology Administration, or RITA.

RITA received more than 140 applications from universities and research consortiums across the country. It selected only 33 centers.  

WTI will also be a partner in a second University Transportation Center, or UTC. The University of Alaska-Fairbanks was selected to lead the Center for Environmentally Sustainable Transportation in Cold Climates, in collaboration with Washington State University and WTI.  This UTC will focus on infrastructure construction and maintenance issues such as context-sensitive design, recycled construction materials, reducing the impacts of snow and ice control, and eco-system protection. As a partner, WTI will receive approximately $790,000 in federal grant funding over two years.

"In previous years, the U.S. Department of Transportation selected and funded more than 65 centers, but the program has been restructured and reduced to only 33 centers nationwide," said Steve Albert, WTI director. "Given how competitive the grant competition was this year, we are extremely proud to lead one center and be a partner in a second one. Our selection is recognition that we are conducting nationally important research and workforce development activities."

WTI has a long and successful history with the UTC program, receiving $29.7 in federal funding over 13 years. In 1998, it was designated as a national UTC specializing in rural transportation issues, receiving an 8-year grant.  In 2006, this center was re-authorized, receiving another five years of funding.

U.S. DOT funding has supported groundbreaking research projects, including:

·    Deploying advanced Intelligent Transportation System technologies on rural roads.
·    Evaluating wildlife crossing structures and other methods for reducing animal-vehicle collisions.
·    Creating TRANSCEND, a cold regions road and maintenance test bed at the Lewistown Airport.

The UTC program also emphasizes the integration of research with education and workforce development activities. Over the years, WTI has had the opportunity to use UTC resources to support MSU students and education programs in numerous ways, including:

·    Offering annual research fellowships to both undergraduate and graduate students.
·    Offering paid research assistant positions to as many as 30 students per year, who receive "real-world" research experience working on UTC funded projects.
·    Partnering with the Civil Engineering Department to support transportation faculty members.
·    Developing and offering graduate-level coursework based on WTI research.
·    Supporting student participation in career development activities, such as field trips, sponsorship of student chapters of professional transportation associations, and travel to national conferences to present research.

"The UTC program is a wonderfully synergistic program that allows us to work collaboratively with Montana State University faculty and students in a variety of programs and capacities, to everyone's benefit," Albert said. "Faculty and students enhance our capability to develop state-of-the-practice transportation solutions, and WTI enhances MSU's opportunities to provide a learning environment bolstered by research and practical experience. We look forward to continuing these programs through the new centers."