TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In a partnership with federal, state and local agencies, The University of Alabama is leading an approximate $16 million project to transform traffic operations in West Alabama and provide leading-edge research to address societal transportation needs.
With an $8.03 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, UA researchers will develop and deploy technologies to improve traffic control systems in west-central Alabama through the Advanced Connected Transportation Infrastructure and Operations Network, or ACTION, initiative on freeways and feeder roads in and around Tuscaloosa.
The initiative’s core theme is to leverage technological advances to enhance efficiency, capacity and safety. Key components of ACTION include a network of sensors and cameras, communications technologies and traffic signal systems, as well as mobility tools for passenger and freight traffic.
The DOT funding comes through its Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment, or ATCMTD, Program. Established by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act in 2015, ATCMTD is a competitive program to provide funding for eligible entities to improve the performance of U.S. transportation systems, reduce traffic congestion and improve the safety of the traveling public by providing state-of-the-art technology.
“It is outstanding news that DOT has awarded UA funding for Alabama’s advanced technology initiative,” said Sen. Richard Shelby in announcing the DOT grant. “The program will address transportation needs in west-central Alabama that are critical to improved quality of life and economic vitality.”
The three-year project includes $8.3 million in matching funds from state and local agencies. At UA, the Alabama Transportation Institute will spearhead the work.
“This nationally competitive award enhances the growing recognition of UA’s research enterprise,” said Dr. Shashi Nambisan, executive director of UA’s ATI and principal investigator on the grant. “The award reflects the combined efforts of several researchers and transportation related centers at UA and our partners who teamed up to address critical transportation system needs in west-central Alabama.”
Along with ATI, the multi-agency partnership includes the Alabama Department of Transportation, the Tuscaloosa County Road Improvement Commission, the cities of Tuscaloosa and Northport, and other local and regional industry stakeholders, including manufacturing and trucking. The UA team includes researchers from the Center for Advanced Public Safety, or CAPS, Center for Advanced Vehicle Technologies, or CAVT, and the University Transportation Center for Alabama, or UTCA.
“The project will substantially mitigate congestion, improve travel time reliability, and enhance safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists in the region, all of which are critical for the region’s economic vitality and interstate commerce,” Nambisan said.
The deployment grant will allow UA researchers to test the technologies used as routine in smart and connected communities of the future, allowing them to grasp how they can enhance the safe and efficient movement of people and goods over the region’s transportation network, said Dr. Alex Hainen, UA assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering and a researcher on the project.
“The data we will get from the project will be groundbreaking for the transportation industry,” he said. “This work will not only improve the lives of people in the region, but it will allow our students an exceptional opportunity to work with researchers and practitioners to develop tools of the future.”
Technologies deployed in the project include networked cameras, deep-learning algorithms for incident detection from video images, dedicated short-range communication radios, advanced traffic signal controllers, mobile apps, cable median crash sensors and traffic communication applications among vehicles, people and infrastructure.
Along with Nambisan and Hainen, core team members from UA include Dr. Joshua A. Bittle, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and a researcher within CAVT; Dr. Bharat Balasubramanian, executive director of CAVT; Dr. Laura Myers, director of CAPS; Dr. Jun Liu, assistant professor of civil engineering and a researcher within UTCA; and Dr. Randy Smith, associate professor of computer science and a researcher within CAPS.
The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.