A new research collaboration between the University of Missouri System and the Missouri Department of Transportation was announced Tuesday in Jefferson City.

The Missouri Center for Transportation Innovation will be led by MU for its first three years. Research from the four universities of the UM System will be shared with MoDOT, according to news releases from both MU and MoDOT.

“At the rate that transportation technology is changing, if you can’t stay ahead of the curve with your research initiatives, you’ll quickly be passed by others” MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna said in a MoDOT press release. “With Missouri’s historical position as a nationwide leader in transportation, we can’t let that happen. The creation of MCTI positions us well for the future.”

Bill Buttlar, an MU engineering professor, will be the director of the center.

John J. Myers, professor of civil engineering and dean of the College of Engineering and Computing at Missouri Science & Technology, will be deputy director.

John Kavern from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Jill Bernard Bracy from the University of Missouri, St. Louis, will serve on the operation’s cabinet for MCTI, according to the UM press release.

MoDOT and the UM System hope to work together to conduct transportation research that is state funded and attempt to draw in federal grants.

“Combining the strengths of the UM System universities with MoDOT through the MCTI is a clear expression of our mission to foster research that benefits the people of Missouri, the nation and the world,” UM System President Mun Choi said.

MoDOT’s state planning and research funding will be the initial funding for the center. Buttlar says the agency believes it will grow quickly, allowing the project to attract attention from investors after building a successful foundation of projects funded by the state, according to the MU release.

“We are well positioned to address our ever-expanding transportation needs,” Myers said. “The four-campus collaboration with MoDOT will form a transportation research network with national and international leaders that has broad capabilities to address challenges now and in the future.”

Buttlar says if the institute is successful, Missouri will become the birthplace of new ideas and innovations surrounding transportation. He also says he has estimated that less than a quarter of states have formed relationships between higher education institutions and state and local agencies, according to MU.

National funding agencies, like the U.S. Department of Transportation, are looking to fund bigger projects — projects that only organizations as huge as the center can take on, Buttlar said.

“Now, instead of competing for those funds as individual agencies, the MCTI can use its collective power to make a more compelling case for funding,” Buttlar said. “This places Missouri at the cutting edge of transportation improvements and opens the door for key innovations that will have a direct impact on all its citizens.”

Buttlar said he hopes the program will lead to groundbreaking innovations, like smart roads. He says making transportation ‘hi-tech’ was only a dream until recently.

“Now with advances in low-cost, advanced sensors, smart materials and machine learning, we can harvest large amounts of data from roads, bridges and vehicles, and use that data to improve the safety, longevity and sustainability of the transportation network in Missouri and beyond,” Buttlar said.

Supervising editor is Fred Anklam Jr.

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