Mansoureh Jeihani (left) and a colleague conducting transit infrastructure research. (Courtesy photo)
Mansoureh Jeihani (left) and a colleague conducting transit infrastructure research. (Courtesy photo)

A nationwide transit innovation initiative makes its localized impact at Morgan State University, thanks to millions of dollars in federal funding.

The sites are known as University Transportation Centers and are anchored at higher learning institutions throughout the country. While these centers themselves aren’t new, Morgan State’s own National Center for Transportation Management, Research and Development (NTC) is, thanks to nearly $20 million that the school said the US Department of Transportation (DOT) granted to seed the center in late March.

The funds not only support the research of solutions to transportation problems, like traffic congestion or accessibility issues, but also may help get real working solutions up and running in the years to come.

“It’s very important,” said Mansoureh Jeihani, the director of the center. “We can expand this test track and we [would] have more vehicles equipped with this technology, and also [be] getting more data and finding better ways to make roads safer.”

Morgan State has already developed an on-campus testbed for connected autonomous vehicles. Earlier this spring, the DOT announced the university would earn $15 million more from the federal government through the SMARTER Center grant program — an initiative that received $435 million in additional funds nationwide. Morgan State also got an additional $4 million from Maryland’s Department of Transportation.

For this newer center, Morgan State will act as the principal institution, gathered with seven other Mid-Atlantic Region 3 universities that are doing transportation research. There are 10 National Transportation Center regions in all.

Morgan State is the first HBCU, and the first school in Maryland, to lead such a region. Jeihani said that these schools collaborate in ways that bridge the key differences between the transit concerns these regions encounter.

“We always interact with each other and share our findings and our ways, and get ideas from each other,” Jeihani said. “Each region might have different issues. Some regions have flooding issues, others are tornadoes. Some regions are mostly rural and have accessibility issues. But some regions are mostly urban and have congestion problems.”

Morgan State’s transportation program is relatively small, with just 100 students, but research there has enabled developments beyond campus. Campus shuttles have been studied and modeled as connected autonomous vehicles. Moreover, a pilot program expected to begin this month at Baltimore/Washington International Airport will demonstrate the usefulness of autonomous wheelchairs to the air passengers that need them.


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