Faculty Spotlight: Andrew P. Nichols, PhD – PTOE Director, Intelligent Transportation Systems, Marshall University

Growing up in West Virginia and studying in the Midwest, Andrew Nichols always hoped to return to the Appalachia region. The opportunity to join the faculty of Marshall University was too good to pass up, especially since it gave him the chance to help shape and grow the university’s new engineering program as its first tenure-track transportation faculty hire. “I became a faculty member because I enjoy the interaction with students,” explained Nichols. “I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to do this in my home state.”

Nichols is both an applied researcher and a consultant in the area of transportation engineering. He has conducted traffic signal design, traffic data collection, traffic safety studies, and traffic-related research for various projects in South Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland. His research interests span a wide array of traffic-related topics including deer-vehicle collision rates, overloaded commercial vehicles and end-of-queue accidents among others.

As a PhD student at Purdue University, he studied quality control of weigh-in-motion data, developing accuracy metrics for sensors in the pavement that measure axle weights at normal highway speeds. Now recognized as an expert in weigh-in-motion, Nichols served on TRB’s Expert Task Group on LTPP Traffic Data Collection and Analysis. He was also recently appointed to the West Virginia Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.

Nichols has forged a unique partnership with the WV DOT in the area of traffic signal management. He and his research group provide support to help address timing complaints, traffic signal design, detector issues, and signal retiming. As a result, he has access to substantial field data that can be leveraged for traffic-related research.  “Without the trust of the WV DOT, we would be conducting research with limited application beyond simulation. We are able to apply research techniques to help identify and correct everyday problems.”

Some of this field data provides the basis for a collaborative MATS UTC-funded project on reducing emissions and fuel consumption by enhancing traffic control systems. Together with colleagues from the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech, the team is tackling complex traffic issues focused on a heavily congested 4-lane roadway in Morgantown, WV. The project seeks to address all aspects of traffic signal timing from the design, optimization, deployment and monitoring perspectives. The project features four unique components:

Montasir Abbas, PhD, associate professor in transportation infrastructure and systems engineering at Virginia Tech, is exploring the conditions under which GPS-based and other area-wide priority systems should be used as well as the optimal timing plans and compatible configuration for the selected system.

Hesham Rakha, PhD, professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering and director of the Center for Sustainable Mobility at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, is identifying the optimum signal timings associated with fuel consumption and emissions to develop an analytical formulation for the computation of the optimum signal timings.

Brian Park, PhD, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Virginia, is investigating advanced controller settings utilizing high resolution data and simulation runs as well as software-in-the-loop and hardware-in-the-loop simulation to emulate actual traffic controllers.

For his part, Nichols is investigating emergency vehicle preemption (EVP) control operations by investigating the high resolution data being produced by the intersections in the field. Because of their infrequent and irregular occurrence, EVP is difficult to observe in the field.  His research group has developed performance metrics that can be investigated to quantify the impact of emergency vehicles on intersection coordination and to identify EVP sensor problems.

Results from this project have been accepted for presentation at the Transportation Research Board annual meeting in January, 2016.

Nichols’ teaching and research contributions to the Marshall University community, as well as his commitment to providing applicable solutions to complex traffic issues, have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year, Nichols received the 2015 Dr. Charles E. Hedrick Outstanding Faculty Award recognizing a full-time, tenured faculty member with a record of outstanding classroom teaching, scholarship, research and creative activities. It is Marshall University’s highest faculty honor. In addition, he received the 2015 Marshall University Distinguished Artists and Scholars Award for Sciences and Technology. Rounding out a stellar year, Nichols was the keynote speaker at Marshall’s winter commencement. “I never imagined that my achievements would result in the honors I have received from the Marshall University faculty and administration. While I would never seek this recognition for myself, I am glad that it has increased the exposure of Marshall University engineering locally and regionally,” he stated.

Nichols received a BS in civil engineering from West Virginia University, an MS in civil engineering from Purdue University and a PhD in civil engineering from Purdue University.

He may be contacted at andrew.nichols@marshall.edu.