Center for Transportation Research: Highlights

Research Digest, March 2014: TRB

March 28th, 2014 by Kevyn in CTR Library · Research Digest · Transportation Research · No Comments

The March 2014 issue of the Research Digest is now available for download from the CTR Library’s website. This month’s digest provides abstracts for 17 recent publications received at the library from the Transportation Research Board (TRB). The selected publications included syntheses of information and best practice guidelines on a variety of topics from TRB’s cooperative research programs (ACRP, NCHRP, and TCRP).

Abstracts and full-text links are provided for each report and print copies are available at the library; in some cases we may have spare copies to give away.

To stay up-to-date on all the latest research published through different transportation programs, visit the library’s “New Materials” web page or follow @ctrlib on Twitter. When publishers make their reports available online for free, CTR Library provides links to the online full-text in our catalog.

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TxDOT Sound Barrier in Dallas

March 17th, 2014 by Joey W. in Environment · Highways · Transportation Research · TxDOT · Video · No Comments

For anyone living in a densely populated urban area located next to a big highway moving lots of cars, they will testify to the amount of noise the roadways can generate. It significantly impacts the surrounding neighborhoods, and adversely affects their quality of life. Such was the case in the Dallas neighborhood of Edgefield off of I-30. Several years ago, the roadway was expanded to handle higher volumes of traffic, and with it increased noise.

Responding to input from area residents, TxDOT decided to construct a sound barrier to help minimize the roadway noise. They tapped researchers at CTR to help design and analyze the barrier.

The project is still in progress, but as this video demonstrates, its has already improved life for nearby residents.

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Student Spotlight: Saamiya Seraj

March 17th, 2014 by Kevyn in Students · No Comments

Photo of Saamiya and fellow student working with wet concrete outside. Five others in various stages of work or observation
Working on a project at the Pickle campus
Name: Saamiya Seraj

Hometown: Dhaka, Bangladesh

Current position: Graduate Research Assistant to Dr. Maria Juenger, co-advised by Dr. Raissa Ferron

Hobbies: I love traveling and getting to experience different cultures! Very recently I visited Italy, and it was an amazing experience to see the beautiful remnants of Roman engineering. I love reading books as well, my favorite being mystery novels. I’m also a big food person, and Austin’s a great city to indulge yourself in all these eclectic cuisines!

Where were you before you came to pursue your graduate degree at UT?

I came to UT as an undergraduate. Before that, I was finishing up high school in Bangladesh.

How did you become interested in transportation engineering?

Growing up in a developing country, such as Bangladesh, I witnessed firsthand how a lack of infrastructure can be crippling to a country. Ambulances getting stuck in traffic gridlocks, streets getting flooded due to inadequate drainage, people having water and electricity shortages due to unplanned urban growth – the list goes on. I was determined to change that, and felt that studying civil engineering would give me the means to do so.

Why did you decide to pursue your graduate studies here at UT?

I loved how multi-disciplinary the research efforts at UT were. For example – a lot of the transportation research not only draws on concepts from engineering, but also from economics, geography and psychology. Another example is my own research that I’m doing for the Texas Department of Transportation, studying alternate supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) in concrete. I’ve had to learn concepts from geology, chemistry, and as surprising as it may seem, volcanology!

Our world is beset by such complex problems, that I feel one field alone cannot provide all the answers. That’s why UT’s multi-disciplinary research was a big draw for me.
Photo of Saamiya in a field of bluebonnets, with a PRC building in the background
Bluebonnets on Pickle Research Campus

What kind of work are you doing here? What role are you are playing in the research, and what are your responsibilities?

I’m looking at alternative supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) that can replace Class F fly ash.

Fly ash, a by-product of coal burning power plants, is one of the most popular supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) used in concrete. Since the production of cement generates a lot of carbon dioxide, SCMs are thought to be sustainable since they replace a percentage of the cement and are usually industry by products, like fly ash. Fly ash’s popularity as an SCM, however, is not only from its environmental benefit. It’s much cheaper than cement, and when used as an SCM it can significantly increase concrete strength and durability.
Photo of Saamiya and Jonathan in the stands at a Longhorn football game
UT football game with my husband, Jonathan,
also a UT ME alum

However, due to pending environmental restrictions, there have been concerns about the future availability of fly ash in the US. Considering that about 77% of all concrete products in the US have fly ash in it (ARTBA, 2011), once these restrictions take effect, the concrete industry will be severely affected. My research focuses on finding replacements materials that have similar benefits in concrete as fly ash.

This project is interesting because I’m getting the opportunity to look at these materials both from a macro and micro perspective. At the macro level, I’ve casted concrete samples with these alternate SCMs to see how they perform under unfavorable conditions. On the micro scale, I’m trying to link back the performances of the material to its innate characteristics. Essentially, I’m trying to find what makes one material work better than the other, and understand how these SCMs affect the overall hydration and chemistry of concrete.

What got you interested in this field?

Photo of Saamiya and Sarah Seraj in their Explore UT t-shirts. Hook Em gestures
Volunteering at explore UT with my
sister, who is also a civil engineer at UT
We’ve achieved spectacular advancements in making buildings more sustainable from an energy efficiency point of view. I felt that building materials would be the next big area to look into, to see how we can make our buildings – and infrastructure – more sustainable. For example, there is a widespread effort to prolong the service life of our infrastructure in the US. Questions such as – can we increase durability of the materials, can we make them self-healing, can we reuse waste products – can be answered through materials’ research.

After you finish your studies here, what next? Any post-graduate school goals?

There is a lot of research looking into innovative cements and binders that are more sustainable than the traditional cement that’s used in concrete. Some are looking at cements that actually absorb carbon dioxide instead of releasing it during production. Others are looking into binders that only use industry by-products like fly ash. Regardless of whether it’s in academia or in industry, I’d love to be a part of such exciting research after I graduate.

Photo of Saamiya with building in background, dated 5-30-2010
Right outside parliament building in Dhaka, Bangladesh

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Alumni Profile: Alison Conway

March 17th, 2014 by Kevyn in Alumni · Bicycles · Transportation Research · No Comments

Photo of Alison with fjord and mountains in the background
Traveling through a Fjord in
Norway last summer
Name: Alison Conway

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Currently Residing: New York, NY

Current job: Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering at the City College of New York and Associate Director for New Initiatives at the Region 2 University Transportation Research Center (UTRC).

Graduated from UT: 2009

Hobbies outside of work: Traveling, bicycling, random recreational sports, photography, recently started to learn to play the Irish fiddle (poorly).

What is it like to teach transportation engineering at the college level?

At CCNY, I teach undergraduate and graduate level courses in transportation planning and transportation systems engineering. I especially like teaching the introductory courses because often undergraduate students have no idea what “transportation engineers” do; I am usually the first professor to try to convince them to concentrate in the field. The best thing about being a professor is having the opportunity to work with great students and seeing them move on to future success. I was very fortunate to have undergraduate professors who allowed me to get involved in research, so I am very happy when I have the opportunity to involve interested students in my projects. One of my first undergraduate research assistants, Diniece Peters, just finished her Master’s at UT. The other things that I like best about the research aspects of my job are having the opportunity to work on unique projects and being able to interact with and collaborate with others from around the country and around the world examining the same problems in very different contexts.
Photo of Saamiya with 6 others in a lobby at the TRB Annual Meeting
With planning team on a project at TRB

What is one of the most interesting areas of discussion in your specific field of expertise today?

One emerging area I have been excited to study lately has been how to address new challenges for goods movement in bicycle-friendly cities. In recent years, transportation planning and urban design have become very focused on encouraging bicycle and pedestrian travel in urban areas (including New York) through installation of bicycle and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure, implementation of bicycle friendly policies, and introduction of bike-share programs. These efforts have generally been successful in their intended purpose – shifting commuters to bikes; however, they have also inadvertently created many new challenges for the trucks needed to support the cities’ economies and livelihoods. When roads are designed with a primary focus on bicyclists, the resulting infrastructure is often unfriendly to trucks, with reduced curb access, difficult-to-maneuver turns, and increased potential for accidents with non-motorized travelers. The most interesting thing about this area of conflict is that the more successful communities are in becoming dense and non-motorized travel dependent, the more dependent they will also become on fast and reliable goods movement to nearby businesses and directly to residences (for example, delivery of groceries purchased online). As a freight researcher who also likes to bike, I’d like to contribute to identifying solutions that will allow these modes to coexist harmoniously. Fortunately, I have convinced some fellow UT alums – Nick Lownes (University of Connecticut) and Jeff Lamondia (Auburn University) – to work with me in this area.

Why did you choose to pursue your graduate studies at UT/CTR?

I applied to UT at the suggestion of my undergraduate advisor, who identified it as one of the top programs. When I came to visit, the faculty, staff, and students were unbelievably welcoming – I will never forget that Lisa Macias drove me to the airport at 5:30 in the morning on a Sunday to catch my flight home! The atmosphere of CTR and the Civil Engineering department, in addition to the great academic and research programs (not to mention the 70 degree weather in February), made choosing UT a pretty easy decision.

What did you get out of your time at CTR? How did your time here prepare you for your career?

At CTR, I had to the opportunity to work on a number of complex projects with a really diverse group of experts and other students. I worked on proposals and projects with my advisor, as well as with CTR researchers with expertise in economics, policy, and law, and I was able to learn a tremendous amount from them. I was also given the opportunity to generate some of my own proposals, which was invaluable experience when I had to so do as a faculty member. I also learned from Dr. Walton’s advice and example the importance of interacting with and getting involved in the professional community; this guidance has been critical in allowing me to build a professional network of mentors and colleagues.
Photo of Alison and 9 others in front of DUANEreade truck that says "this truck is 100 percent Electric Zero emissions"
Last Mile

What projects did you work on while you were at CTR?

I spent six years at UT for my master’s and Ph.D. so I had the opportunity to work on a lot of interesting projects – mostly related to freight policy and ITS applications – with my advisor Dr. Mike Walton, and with great support from Vicki Simpson. My master’s thesis and the first two projects that I worked on focused on ITS applications for commercial vehicle size and weight enforcement and security. My dissertation research focused on road pricing for commercial vehicles. I also was able to work on some large team projects at CTR, including a study looking at the potential for heavier and longer-combination vehicles in Texas. On that project I had the opportunity to work with many researchers at CTR, including Rob Harrison and Jolanda Prozzi.
Photo of Saamiya and Sarah Seraj in their Explore UT t-shirts. Hook Em gestures
Celebrating Saint Patrick’s Day in
New York with sisters, Moira and Leah

How did you become interested in transportation engineering?

It is hard to define exactly when I decided to become an engineer, but my mom would probably tell you it was in kindergarten when I managed to get both myself and my parents in trouble by going to blocks every day instead of rotating through all of the play stations. My family includes lots of mathematicians and scientists – my mom is a math professor, my dad is a dentist and former chemistry teacher, and my grandfather was a chemical engineer. In high school, I liked math, science, and art so I became interested in architecture and structural engineering. Like most civil engineers, I started college thinking I wanted to build bridges and buildings, but I changed my concentration to transportation after I was assigned a project focused on Intelligent Transportation Systems during my undergraduate technical writing class at the University of Delaware.

What advice do you have for students considering a career in transportation engineering?

Transportation engineering is a great field because there is almost never an easy answer to a transportation problem. Transportation engineers do use use math and physics and develop new technologies and materials to “solve” problems, but we also have to consider the diverse needs and uncertainties of different users and stakeholders as well as often conflicting and rapidly changing social, economic, and environmental goals. Transportation engineering is not a field for those who like simple answers, but rather for those looking to be constantly challenged to find new solutions to complex problems.

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March 14th, 2014 by Joey W. in Electric / Alternate fuel vehicles · Events · Video · No Comments

Over the past several years, the South by Southwest Interactive Festival has rapidly become one of the most prominent technology and innovation gatherings in the world. This year, the festival’s focus was broadened to include thought leaders in the new Intelligent Future theme, giving more room to the Internet of Things and how it can improve the efficiency of our cities and society.

CTR Director, Chandra Bhat, was selected to present his panel on Driverless Cars – Implications for Travel Behavior, a topic he has studied and lectures about regularly. Much media attention has already been dedicated to the technology of autonomous vehicles specifically, but this panel explored how the adoption of this new technology may impact the travel and consumption choices consumers make on a daily basis.

The NPR affiliate in Austin, KUT, also sat down with Dr. Bhat to discuss the topic.

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Research Digest, February 2014: TxDOT

February 28th, 2014 by Kevyn in CTR Library · Research Digest · No Comments

The February 2014 issue of the Research Digest is now available for download from the CTR Library’s website.

The issue of the digest provides abstracts for 15 Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Research Program publications that were published from December through February. These publications are from ongoing or completed research projects sponsored through the TxDOT Research and Technology Implementation Office (RTI).

Full-text links are provided for each publication and print copies are available in the library. Some items may be on CD-ROM.

To stay up-to-date on all the latest research published through different transportation programs, you can visit the library’s “New Materials” web page or follow us on Twitter. CTR Library’s online catalog provides links to online full-text of reports when publishers make that content available for free.

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A Student Perspective at TRB

February 5th, 2014 by Joey W. in Students · Transportation Research · No Comments

The annual pilgrimage better know as the Transportation Research Board (TRB) annual conference, is a rite of passage for first-year students at the Center for Transportation Research (CTR). This year, Jake Gutekunst traveled with other students to Washington DC to attend, and we asked him to give us a glimpse into his first experience at TRB.

Jake Gutekunst
Jake at the Air & Space Museum. Hook’em!


The 93rd Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board was exciting and intense, with thousands of presentations and attendees crammed into a five-day period. As a first time attendee, it was difficult to prepare and know what to expect, even though there were many helpful materials provided in advance about the conference. Nevertheless, the experience was enjoyable and packed with interesting presentations and people from all over the world. In addition, being able to explore the nation’s capitol was quite unique, an enjoyable side-benefit to traveling to Washington, D.C.

I arrived on Sunday afternoon, technically the first day of meetings, events, and poster sessions, and made it just in time for the University of Texas reception at the Marriott hotel. It was a great opportunity to network and speak with many of the top faculty within the transportation program at UT, with former students and faculty, as well as researchers from all over. I learned that there is great value in attending and making an effort to meet people at informal events such as these. The benefits could range from simply collaborating on work in a similar field of interest to meeting someone who can be instrumental in helping find a job upon graduation. One piece of advice I would give to future attendees is to make sure to put effort into spending time with people and talking to them at the conference, as the benefits can be immense.

During the course of the week, I went to many different lecterns and poster sessions on topics of interest to me and my research. In particular, I went to many sessions on public transit (a personal interest of mine) and many others on traffic flow theory and network modeling. Although not all of the sessions I attended were relevant to my work, there was value in understanding what trends there are in each specific field of transportation and what questions are most pressing in this time. The experience helps stretch your perspective of the field and understand how to view your own research problems in a different framework than the one you are currently working in. In addition, the conference exposes you to diverse fields of transportation that may not be explored at UT or not have staff with experience in the subject. The lectern sessions were more of an informal event in large settings where one can absorb information, whereas poster sessions were more interactive with the individual researchers. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend any meetings of committees, but I would recommend it, since you can sit in the background and observe experts discuss very specific topics and decide for yourself if it is something you aspire to be a leader in as well.

By attending the TRB conference, I feel that I have gained a better perspective of transportation engineering and the problems that plague our field and society as a whole. It is a valuable opportunity that I will look back on and appreciate, both for the information I gathered and the relationships I hope to continue to develop.

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Research Digest January 2014: State DOTs

January 31st, 2014 by Kevyn in CTR Library · Publications · Research Digest · No Comments

The January 2014 issue of the Research Digest is now available for download from the CTR Library website. This month’s digest provides abstracts for 18 publications from other states’ department of transportation research programs. The research projects represented here are from Colorado, Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington and cover a wide range of topics.

Full-text links are provided for each report.

To stay up-to-date on all the latest research published through different transportation programs, you can visit the library’s “New Materials” web page or follow us on Twitter. CTR Library provides links to online full-text of reports in our catalog when publishers make that content available for free.

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