During Peter Appel’s recent visit to the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), the Southwest Region University Transportation Center (SWUTC) and the University Transportation Center for Mobility™ (UTCM), it was easy to see what motivates the administrator of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation (US DOT).
“One of my passions is to get people in different aspects of transportation talking to each other and realizing shared areas of interest,” Appel said at a luncheon with nearly two dozen graduate students pursuing transportation-related careers. The students represent some of the best and brightest in SWUTC and UTCM programs, from both the A&M System and Texas Southern University.
Appel, who was appointed RITA administrator in 2009, coordinates the US DOT’s research, education and technology transfer programs, including the University Transportation Centers (UTC) Program. TTI is home to SWUTC and UTCM — two of the nation’s 60 UTCs — and Appel came here to see these facilities first hand.
Appel’s tour included overviews of TTI, SWUTC and UTCM, the viewing of a crash test at TTI’s Riverside Campus, and a ride in the Institute’s instrumented vehicle designed for human factors research. According to Appel, he especially enjoyed the chance to visit directly with students over lunch. “It’s an exciting time to be in transportation —to address the issues of safety, global communities and mobility and deal with environmental issues. I want to personally thank you for being in the transportation field.”
“Students are the ultimate payoff,” SWUTC Director Dock Burke told Appel about RITA’s impact on funding. “But we also develop critical spinoff activities like new centers, new technologies and collaborations that would not be possible without the funding we get from RITA.”
Melissa Tooley, director of the UTCM, agrees. “From enhancements to the research that goes into TTI’s Urban Mobility Report to UTCM’s leading role in the discussion on mileage-based user fees, funding from RITA has helped establish ongoing initiatives that are making a difference in solving transportation problems,” she told Appel.
With the help of research, education and technology transfer initiatives at the UTCM and SWUTC, TTI maintains a close association with many academic units of the Texas A&M University System —including the colleges of engineering, architecture and agriculture and life sciences, the Health Science Center and the Bush School of Government and Public Service — as well as with other universities such as Texas Southern University, The University of Texas at Austin and Prairie View A&M University.
“While our activities are diverse, our mission is pretty simple,” TTI Agency Director Dennis Christiansen told Appel during the TTI overview presentation. “We use research to solve problems, we implement the solutions and, as we do that, we help train and educate the next generation of transportation professionals.”
As he was leaving TTI, Appel said he was impressed with what he saw and heard.
“TTI is a national leader in transportation with a tremendous variety of cutting-edge research. I really like the interdisciplinary aspects of its research.” Noting the linkages among the engineering, policy and finance issues of transportation, Appel said, “It’s great to have each of these groups talking to each other.”