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Transportation Center Still on the Move

by Mary E. Barton
Transportation Center Still on the Move
Members attend a State of the Industry Town Hall meeting.

The METRANS Transportation Center this week celebrates 10 years of research and education on metropolitan transportation.

On Thursday, the center’s 10-year celebration dinner will be held at the Galen Center.

The U.S. Department of Transportation designated the center – a partnership between USC and California State University, Long Beach – as a University Transportation Center in 1998.

Over the past decade, USC and Cal State Long Beach faculty members have received $8.76 million for transportation projects covering issues such as freight movement, urban mobility, infrastructure and safety.

“METRANS has greatly enhanced USC’s reputation as a center for innovation in transportation scholarship,” said Randolph W. Hall, the center’s original director and USC vice provost for research advancement. “We have become a ‘go to’ source of unbiased information for academics, policymakers and private industry, and we have influenced the course of transportation in California and beyond.”

Two USC schools collaborate under the Transportation Center – the School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. This partnership has been a model for other cross-disciplinary research programs, such as the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE).

Transportation Center researchers come from all fields of engineering as well as economics, information sciences, urban planning, real estate development and public policy.

“METRANS conducts a competitive grant program aimed at generating the highest quality basic and applied research,” said Genevieve Giuliano, the center’s director and SPPD professor.

According to Petros Ioannou, associate director of research, the center offers “real-world solutions.”

Ioannou recently co-authored a study with Cal State Long Beach professor Anastasios Chassiakos that showed how to reduce by 40 percent truck trips carrying empty container to the local ports.

In addition, Hall is proud of the center’s investment in research on rail safety. “As witnessed dramatically in the recent Metro Rail crash, we badly need to improve transportation safety. Our research is providing a roadmap for saving lives.”

A major purpose of the Transportation Center program is to attract faculty and students to transportation research. Giuliano noted that the center began with nine faculty researchers (six at USC), and today 94 faculty members (54 at USC) have received research funding.

The center continues to expand its funding base. “Proposals that include matching funds are given priority in the selection process,” Giuliano said. One recent project by professor Detlof von Winterfeldt examined the effects of terrorist attacks on mass transit systems.

The center also leverages existing research. The California Business, Transportation and Housing Agency was eager to know the national economic impact of the 2002 shutdown at local ports. Professors Peter Gordon, James Moore II and Harry Richardson – as part of CREATE – developed a nationwide economic impact model.

Moore said, “METRANS’ support was crucial to our initial efforts,” which resulted in a national interstate economic model.

Matching funds from the Transportation Center enabled Giuliano and professor Jos� Luis Ambite to extend a National Science Foundation-funded freight modeling project under a new grant from the Department of Transportation.

In addition, the center’s funds are used to support initiation of large research projects, such as freight systems in mega-cities, immigrant research and the GeoDec research program.

The National Urban Freight Conference has become the center’s showcase for urban transportation research. Next year, the conference will attract a global audience and encourage international partnerships to collaborate on comparative port studies, said Thomas O’Brien, associate director for Cal State Long Beach programs.

Graduate students at USC have many options to pursue a transportation specialization. Students come from civil, industrial and electrical engineering as well as urban planning, public policy, public management and geography. They often serve as research assistants on research grants and have access to numerous award competitions and fellowships.

Recent graduates have tenure-track positions at Texas A&M University, the University of California, Davis, the State University of New York and other prominent schools as well as positions at research institutes, government agencies and major firms worldwide.

The Transportation Center has gained a nationwide reputation for its annual State of the Industry Town Hall meetings, focusing on issues related to the local ports.

The meetings have attracted more than 1,000 stakeholders, including members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. In addition, the center sponsors frequent seminars and professional training programs.

At Thursday’s dinner, Princeton University professor David Billington will challenge attendees to rethink how man-made structures shape society, comparing New York and Los Angeles through the great structures that have historically defined the country’s largest cities.

Billington, who holds the Y. S. Wu chair of engineering at Princeton, will brings a historian’s perspective to engineering feats that have molded modern society.

On Friday, Billington will speak on “The Infrastructure of Rivers and Highways: Dams, Levees and Bridges” during a seminar beginning at 11:30 a.m. For reservations to either event, call (213) 821-1025.

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