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USC schools on the road to more transportation research

The research will include studies on how to make the movement of freight more efficient. (Photo/Rennett Stowe)

With two recent grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) that, along with match funding, total $6.24 million, the USC Metrans Transportation Center at the USC Price School of Public Policy and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering will conduct research on how to improve transportation in major metropolitan areas and how to make the movement of freight more efficient and sustainable.

According to Genevieve Giuliano, director of Metrans and senior associate dean at USC Price, the first grant of $4.24 million will address the part of the DOT’s strategic plan that calls for investments in transportation to make the nation more economically competitive.

“In the United States, metropolitan areas with populations of 1 million or more account for 54 percent of the total U.S. population and 64 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, carrying almost 90 percent of all transit passengers and all freight shipment by value,” Giuliano said. “So it’s important to focus on improving transportation in these areas because they are so critical to the national economy.”

The second grant of $2 million dovetails with the center’s specialty in urban freight research.

“We will look at specific aspects of freight, such as how to more effectively route alternative fuel vehicles and how warehousing and distribution locations affect freight flows within metropolitan areas,” Giuliano said.

Overall, she said, the grants help to expand transportation research and attract the interest of more faculty and students. The grants will also enable Metrans to further expand its education and award-winning outreach programs.

“One of the big goals of a center like this is to train the next generation of both the professional workforce and the academic workforce,” she said. “We have funded 100 researchers over the years. At the same time, we see increasing numbers of graduate students who are choosing transportation concentrations in both the Viterbi School and the Price School.”

Metrans was established in 1998 as a partnership of USC and California State University, Long Beach, through grants from DOT. Metrans’ mission is to solve transportation problems of large metropolitan regions through interdisciplinary research and education.

The center’s current research focuses on goods movement and international trade, urban mobility and sustainable transportation. Its outreach activities include the biennial International Urban Freight Conference, which draws participants from throughout the world. Metrans, which has played a key role in developing urban freight as a core field of study, received a grant earlier this year to establish the Metro Freight Center of Excellence.

Maged Dessouky, professor of industrial and systems engineering, is one of USC Viterbi’s leading contributors to the center’s research. His work focuses on the scheduling and routing of rail and trucking operations in the United States, as well as the impact of trucks’ use of compressed natural gas — which is more sustainable, but less easily available than gasoline — on truck scheduling and routing.

“Metrans allows people to get together to address urban congestion from different disciplines,” Dessouky said. “Transportation requires both engineers and policy people; without grants like the two we just received, we’d all be operating on an island by ourselves. At the same time, the grants will allow the Viterbi School to make transportation one of its major thrusts.”

Giuliano noted that the center’s research takes a systems approach.

“All types of transportation interact and depend on each other,” she explained. “People and packages interact because they share the same infrastructure and services. So we need to think about the transportation system as a whole, and how we can make it better.”

In addition, the recent DOT grants will also positively impact USC Price as a whole, according to Giuliano.

“They will mean even more interest in and visibility for transportation research at the school, opportunities to fund more students at both the PhD and master’s level, and an expanded mentor program, seminar series and field trips — in short, bolstering many of the student activities that Metrans and USC Price offer.”

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USC schools on the road to more transportation research

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