USDOT says it received 51 competitive grant applications to host the two new UTCs, an extension of a 30-year program that now includes 37 universities. A comprehensive transportation bill passed by Congress in 2015 set aside more than $300 million for research and education through 2020. The idea is to bring academics and researchers into the fold to solve pressing policy problems, while also boosting transportation education programs.
Diana Furchtgott-Roth, deputy assistant secretary for research and technology at USDOT, said in a statement that the UTCs will help to develop solutions "that America needs now," and this need will only continue to grow. A February study from transportation analytics firm Inrix found that American drivers lost an average of 97 hours in 2018 to congestion, the equivalent of $1,348 in lost productivity per driver. While solutions like congestion pricing and dedicated lanes are helping to make a dent in congestion, the issue begs for more innovative measures.
For the universities, the grant funding can help support valuable research and education programs, especially as such institutions have emerged as valuable test sites for smart cities technology, like autonomous vehicles. Other UTCs include the "Center for Teaching Old Models New Tricks" at Arizona State University and the "Freight Mobility Research Institute" at Florida Atlantic University.