Combatting Congestion: Strategies to Reduce Emissions, Address Safety and Improve Driver Morale

For those of us who drive in the Mid-Atlantic region, it will not be surprising to learn that Washington, DC ranks third, behind New York and Los Angeles, for overall traffic congestion. Worse, the stretch of southbound Interstate 95 from the Fairfax County Parkway to Fredericksburg has the dubious honor of being the single worst traffic hotspot in the country compared to 100,000 hotspots in 25 cities. The INRIX US Traffic Hotspot Study 2017 found 1,394 traffic jams on this stretch during a two-month period, resulting in average delays of 33 minutes and covering over six miles.

Massive construction projects are often undertaken to address this kind of congestion. The recently completed Elizabeth River Tunnels Project is a billion dollar public-private partnership intended to alleviate congestion in the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. The comprehensive agreement between Elizabeth River Crossing (ERC) OpCo LLC and the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) encompasses the rehabilitation of two existing tunnels and the construction of a new tunnel and an expressway. By relieving choke points and improving traffic movement, the project is expected to reduce average round trip savings by 30 minutes per day, reduce gas emissions and fuel consumption, and create regional economic benefits estimated at $170 to $254 million.

The Maryland Department of Transportation is in the midst of a modern light rail project, the Purple Line, to run 16.2 miles between Bethesda in Montgomery County and New Carrollton in Prince George’s County. With conceptual and preliminary planning started in 2009 and actual construction begun in 2016, the project is scheduled for completion in 2022, including one tunnel, a number of trails and 21 stations. The light rail electrically-powered vehicles will use existing roadways and pedestrian-friendly neighborhood stations. Projections suggest daily ridership will reach 74,000 by 2040 and that 17,000 cars will be taken off roads every day, saving 1 million gallons of gas annually.

The willingness of governments and transportation agencies to undertake these complex and expensive infrastructure projects is indicative of the congestion ‘crisis’ experienced by millions and the policy dilemmas faced by public funders trying to address the issues.

The federal government acknowledges the urgency of addressing these long-term transportation challenges, passing the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act in 2015. Appropriating billions of dollars for highway improvements, the Act challenges state and local governments to move forward with critical transportation projects, recognizing the ripple effect of congestion on freight movement, infrastructure degradation, environmental impacts, pedestrian and traffic safety, adoption of smart technologies and economic development.

Beyond incurring tremendous expenses to build wider highways, new tunnels and bridges, and extensive mass transit systems, are there other less-costly and environmentally sustainable approaches to alleviate traffic congestion?

Researchers in the Mid-Atlantic region are already tackling these issues, investigating congestion through multiple strategies such as infrastructure investment, public transportation, connected and automatic vehicles and land use management. With MATS UTC funding, they are pursuing collaborative, multi-disciplinary, creative approaches to study and relieve congestion. Examples include:

Quantifying the Impact of On-Street Parking Information on Congestion Mitigation

A team of researchers from Virginia Tech and Morgan State University is seeking to reduce congestion by providing drivers with real-time information about available parking spaces. Using a Morgan State University simulation of Washington, DC’s Chinatown with 1300 metered spaces and 30 loading zones as well as Virginia Tech’s smart road, the team is studying how the availability of parking information impacts driving behavior.

LiDAR for Air Quality Measurement

Using state-of-the-art light detection and ranging (LiDAR) technology at Old Dominion University, researchers are taking an innovative approach to addressing air quality and pollution levels in relation to traffic patterns at specific congested choke points in the Hampton Roads area. They hope to validate this new approach as a way to correlate traffic flow with emissions, giving public health and policy agencies better information upon which to make traffic management and land usage decisions.

Bicycle and Pedestrian Traffic Count Program to Estimate Performance Measures on Streets and Sidewalks in Blacksburg, VA

University of Virginia and Virginia Tech researchers developed a bicycle and pedestrian traffic count program as a tool to understand the impact of pedestrians and bikes on the entire transportation network as well as on specific trails and corridors. They hope to develop a non-motorized land use model on a national scale.

Connected Vehicle Technologies for Efficient Urban Transportation

Researchers at the University of Delaware and Morgan State University are interested in using connected vehicle technology to optimize a vehicle’s control system in real-time to reduce congestion, improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. Using hybrid buses operating at the University of Delaware, the team is studying how intelligently integrated components can respond to both routine and atypical traffic situations, resulting in optimized traffic control and vehicle fuel economy.

Multi-City Direct-Demand Models of Peak Period Bicycle and Pedestrian Traffic

Virginia Tech researchers are studying the shift to non-motorized modes, such as cycling and walking, as commuters and other travellers adopt alternative options to congested roadways. Their research seeks to provide better spatial estimates of walking and cycling traffic as an input to assess exposure to hazards, evaluate infrastructure investments, or locate facilities. Their direct-demand models are intended to provide generalizable results related to the built environment around non-motorized traffic.

Environmental and Safety Attributes of Electric Vehicle Ownership and Commuting Behavior

Researchers at Morgan State University are studying attitudes toward electric vehicle (EV) use as well as the differences in commuting behavior between EV and conventional vehicle owners. The results may dictate new approaches for making public policy and transportation planning decisions related to EV promotion and subsidies, infrastructure related to charging stations and statewide traffic models.

Performance Measures for Freight Transport and General Traffic: Investigating Similarities and Differences Using Alternative Data SourcesResearchers at Old Dominion University are using three probe data sources to investigate the correlation between freight and general traffic travel times in the Hampton roads area. Such research can help to determine if a congestion relief program for a given bottleneck could benefit both freight and general-use traffic and, ultimately, provide DOTs with tools to ensure efficient movement of freight along heavily-used highway systems.

Traffic congestion, whether it occurs in major metropolitan areas or even in smaller cities, suburban areas or rural settings, has a negative effect on quality of life, environmental impacts, economic prosperity, and regional competitiveness. Research efforts that examine forward-thinking transportation strategies represent the next wave of fighting congestion with practical, cost-effective solutions.

Leveraging Connected Vehicles to Enhance Traffic Responsive Traffic Signal Control

One of the earliest innovations promoted by the FHWA’s Every Day Counts initiative is adaptive signal control technology – adaptive because traffic flow can be regulated based on data transmitted by strategically-placed sensors to adjust the timing of red, yellow and green lights. The goal is to reduce congestion by creating smoother flow and improving travel times by progressively moving vehicles through green lights. A positive by-product is that emissions are reduced and fuel economy is improved.

With growing use of Connected Vehicles (CV) (vehicles typically equipped with communication technologies such as GPS to communicate with the driver, other cars and roadside infrastructure), researchers at Old Dominion University, Virginia Tech and Marshall University are exploring optimization of current adaptive signal control technology to estimate queue length and develop enhanced signal coordination through communication with CV sensors. The research focuses on Traffic Responsive Plan Selection (TRPS), an underutilized adaptive control product enabling the selection of pre-programmed traffic signal timing plans based on vehicle demand observed from selected vehicle detectors along a signalized corridor.

Using a signal system in Morgantown, WV as the test bed, the researchers tested algorithms for estimating queue lengths from vehicle trajectory data in real-time, estimating the state of the system in real-time, and communicating information back to the controllers to change the timing plans when appropriate. The field data collection work has been completed and the advanced TRPS plans are now being compared in a simulation environment to basic coordination timing plans and basic TRPS control option across various volume scenarios to estimate improvements in delay, emissions, and fuel consumption.

“Most intersections have timed signals to ensure traffic moves at a regular pace,” explained Mecit Cetin, director of the Transportation Research Institute at Old Dominion University and one of the project’s lead collaborators. “The beauty of using enhanced TRPS is the ability to develop a full range of scenarios, or traffic response plans, to modify the timing of the traffic signal. Think, for example, of a traffic signal near a movie theater. Traffic flow fluctuates from the norm when movie-goers leave the theater. Using CV data and the most appropriate plan, the traffic signal becomes responsive to queues in real-time. In other words, the traffic signal is responsive to the immediate problem.”

The goal is to develop guidelines for designing and operating TRPS to reduce fuel consumption and emissions while promoting the adoption of traffic responsive programs as a low-cost adaptive solution to reduce congestion.

For more information, contact Dr. Cetin at


$18.6 billion in road, bridge, rail and public transportation improvements; board also approves VDOT and DRPT’s annual budget

RICHMOND, Virginia – The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) approved today the latest Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP) for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT), which allocates $18.6 billion to transportation projects over the next six fiscal years beginning July 1, 2017. Projects include highway, road, bridge, rail, transit, bicycle/pedestrian paths and other transportation improvements across the state.

The SYIP provides funding to more than 3,600 transportation projects to improve the state’s infrastructure. This SYIP is the second program to include projects funded through the new funding structure provided by the Governor and General Assembly in 2015, including SMART SCALE distributed High Priority Projects and District Grant programs and State of Good Repair.

FY 2018-2023 Six-Year Improvement Program breakdown:

$15.2 billion – Highway Construction:

  • $1.1 billion – State of Good Repair
  • $2.1 billion – SMART SCALE
  • $0.7 billion – Legacy Programs
  • $3.4 billion – Specialized Programs
  • $1.2 billion – Revenue Sharing
  • $1.6 billion – Maintenance
  • $0.1 billion – Research and Planning
  • $3.9 billion – Public-Private Partnerships
  • $1.1 billion – Local and Regional Funding

$3.4 billion – Rail and Public Transportation

  • $817 million – Rail Initiatives
  • $2.6 billion – Public Transportation*

*Includes $168 million in SMART SCALE funds.

$18.6 billion – Total six-year program

VDOT’s Annual Budget for FY 2018  

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) annual budget for Fiscal Year 2018 is $5.4 billion, representing a one percent increase from the FY 2017 budget. The increase from the previous year is due to a large increase in project participation contributions from the regional entities and localities, offsetting a significant reduction in state revenue and lower use of bond proceeds. Without the increased project contributions, the FY 2018 budget would have been $315 million less, or a four percent reduction from the FY 2017 Budget.  The annual budget is based on the most recent official state revenue forecast from December 2016 and estimated federal funding.

Funds that will be provided for highway maintenance and operations represent 35 percent of the total budget, followed by nearly 31 percent for highway construction.

Smaller portions of the budget are directed to address the needs and requirements of debt service, support to other agencies, tolls, administration, and other programs.

The breakdown:

$356 million – Debt Service

$2.13 billion – Road maintenance and operations (includes city and county street payments)

$548.6 million – Support to other agencies, tolls, administration and other programs

$1.87 billion – Construction

$492.5 million – Funding dedicated to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads Regions for local and regional transportation projects

$5.41 billion – Total VDOT annual budget

DRPT’s Annual Budget for FY 2018

The Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) annual budget for Fiscal Year 2018 is $689 million. The overwhelming majority of these funds are directed to a variety of grant recipients, including: public transportation providers, local and regional government entities, freight railroads, and Amtrak. Over 50 percent of these funds are dedicated to capital improvement projects. The annual budget is based on the most recent official state revenue forecast from December 2016 and estimated federal funding.

The breakdown:

$429 million – Public Transportation Programs

$207.3 million – Passenger and Freight Rail Programs

$1.6 million – Rail Industrial Access Programs

$7.8 million – Rail Preservation Programs

$8.7 million – Commuter Assistance Programs

$13.9 million – Agency Operating Budget

$4.3 million – Planning, Regulation, and Safety Programs

$16.4 million – Human Service Transportation Programs

$689 million – Total DRPT annual budget

Faculty Spotlight: Osman Ozbulut, Ph.D., University of Virginia

As the director of the University of Virginia’s Resilient and Advanced Infrastructure Laboratory (RAIL), Osman Ozbulut applies smart technologies to the development of resilient and sustainable civil infrastructure systems. Ozbulut and his research group, currently five Ph.D. and four M.S students, are focused on developing innovative structural systems and design strategies to enhance the performance and safety of structures. A primary area of expertise is the application of advanced materials to disaster resistant design of structures as well as repair and retrofit of deficient and aging infrastructure.

Some of the most interesting of these materials are shape memory alloys (SMAs). Typically nickel titanium, iron or copper based metallic alloys, SMAs return to their original state under different loading configurations. They possess excellent corrosion resistance, good energy dissipation capacity, high fatigue properties and have superelastic properties that provide re-centering ability. In other words, these materials help a structure or structural member flex and recover when exposed to an extreme event, such as a hurricane, and provide superior protection and reinforcement capabilities when exposed to adverse weather conditions.

In advancing these interests, Ozbulut has collaborated on several MATS UTC research projects. Working with Devin Harris, Ph.D., associate professor at UVA, and UVA graduate students, Sherif Daghas and Muhammed Sherif, the team studied the use of superelastic SMA fibers to enhance the performance of cementitious composites. They found that SMA fibers provide some advantages over traditional fibers such as the ability to experience larger deformations, crack control, and minimize permanent damages and residual displacements. Ozbulut also investigated the use of SMA fibers in a thermoset polymer matrix to develop a polymer composite that has large failure strains and recover large deformations.

Ozbulut and Harris leveraged their mutual interests to investigate additional ways to improve the durability of materials to minimize cracking, reduce permeability and porosity, improve resistance to freeze-thaw degradation, and mitigate corrosion potential. Working with UVA graduate student, Zhangfan Jiang, the team explored the electrical properties and piezoresistive characteristics of graphene nanoplatelets (GNPs) reinforced hydraulic Portland cement composites. They found that GNP-reinforced mortar specimens exhibit good piezoresistive behavior under cyclic compressive loads. Ozbulut is continuing to study the nano-reinforced composites to improve both the conductivity and load carrying capacity of the composites.

Ozbulut is currently collaborating with Wael Zatar Ph.D., Dean of the College of Information Technology and Engineering at Marshall University (MU), and Hai Nguyen, Ph.D., research scientist in civil engineering at MU, to explore how fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) wraps, a technology that has been around for over 20 years, might offer a fresh approach to repairing and fortifying damaged bridges.  Currently used primarily for specialized applications, FRP wraps hold the promise of extending the service life of corrosion-deteriorated concrete. In cleaning and repairing the damaged areas, then applying the optimal number of FRP sheets in the optimal number of directions, the life of the structure could be saved for many more years. However, cost/benefit analyses and assessment criteria are needed before State DOTs widely adopt the approach.

The team is undertaking a non-destructive evaluation approach for projects in West Virginia, a state already using FRP for infrastructure repair. Initially, they will use a variety of damage and inventory parameters to develop a prioritized classification process to help practitioners identify possible candidate structures. Ultimately, they plan to deliver an FRP reference report for bridge inspections and maintenance programs as well as recommendations for field implementations and classroom education initiatives.

In 2016, Ozbulut received an International Young Scientist Fellowship from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSCF). Working with researchers at the Chang’an University, Xi’an, China, he is once again studying GNPs to develop cement sensors that can be embedded in concrete structures. He hopes to show that cement sensors with intrinsic strain- and damage-sensing capabilities can be a more practical and sustainable alternative to monitor the health of concrete structures.

“The capabilities of these advanced alloys and composites really represent the future of high-performance materials,” stated Ozbulut. “We’re showing that they are durable, adaptable and reliable, representing a real step forward in our abilities to improve the health of existing structures and create better ways for new construction projects to be more sustainable.”

Ozbulut is an assistant professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Virginia. He earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in civil engineering from Texas A&M University and was a post-doctoral research associate with the Texas Transportation Institute.

Ozbulut may be contacted at

Reports and papers referenced in this article include:

2017 Competitive Collaborative Projects Announced

MATS UTC is pleased to announce its 2017 competitive collaborative research awards. Selected from among 28 submissions, these eight projects demonstrate the consortium’s commitment to supporting research that accelerates adoption of sustainable practices in the provision of transportation services.

Bicycle Justice or Just Bicycles: Analyzing Equitable Access to Baltimore’s Bike Sharing Program

Celest Chavis (Morgan) and Philip Barnes (UDel)

Bikeshares and bike infrastructure are being implemented in cities across the United States. Bicycling is a low-cost, emission-free form of transportation that has grown in popularity across the United States as jurisdictions look for environmentally friendly transportation options that promote healthy living. Bikeshares serve many purposes; they are used for short, neighborhood trips, tourism, and as a last-mile connection. Bikeshares may induce new trips or result in modal shifts. Moreover, bikeshares can introduce new riders to bicycling.

Deployment of Ground Penetrating Radar and Ultrasonic Tomographer Non-Destructive Techniques for Assessment of Corrosion-Deteriorated Adjacent Prestressed Concrete Box Beams

Wael Zatar (MU), Hai Nguyen (Marshall) and Osman Ozbulut (UVA)

The primary goal of this project is to develop, maintain and implement accurate and manageable processes to evaluate, maintain and repair corrosion-deteriorated adjacent precast box beams in PC bridge infrastructure in the MATS States. Non-destructive techniques and equipment will be used to evaluate existing bridge structures.

Estimating Road Inundation Levels Due to Recurrent Flooding from Image Data

Mecit Cetin (ODU), Khan Iftekharuddin (ODU) and Jon Goodall (UVA)

This research proposes to develop a set of tools and analytical capabilities to estimate water inundations due to recurrent flooding from image data, primarily from video surveillance cameras.

Feasibility of Estimating Commodity Flows on Highways with Existing and Emerging Technologies

Andrew Nichols (Marshall) and Mecit Cetin (ODU)

Each unique commodity (e.g., livestock, fuel, machinery, etc.) is hauled in a specific type of trailer.  Narrowing the trailer type can narrow the possible commodity types.  The goal of this research project is to determine whether the trailer type can be automatically identified using existing technologies, which is a necessary component of estimating the type of commodity being hauled.

An Integrated Dynamic Modeling Approach for Flooding of Coastal Transportation Infrastructure Assessment of Impacts on Emergency Operations

Navid Tahvildari (ODU), Mecit Cetin (ODU), Jon Goodall (UVA) and Pamela Murray-Tuite (VT)

Addressing recurrent flooding of transportation infrastructure is the top priority for the city of Norfolk and many other communities in the region.   Recurrent flooding disrupts access to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital which houses the only level 1 trauma center in the region. The research team proposes to develop a framework to use the state-of-the-art hydrodynamic and hydrologic modeling to forecast flooding of the transportation network in real-time.

Planning for Walking and Cycling in an Autonomous Vehicle Future

Ralph Buehler (VT), Steve Hankey (VT) and Andrew Mondschein (UVA)

Over the last two decades walking and cycling have increased in the United States—in particular in large cities. Efforts to further increase walking and cycling occur during a time of increasingly automated and connected vehicles (AVs). Almost nothing is known about impacts of an increasingly automated vehicle fleet on pedestrians and cyclists. This research seeks to develop planning guidelines for walking and cycling during the transition towards an automated and connected vehicle (AV) fleet.

Removing Nitrate from Stormwater with Biochar Amendment to Roadway Soils

Paul Imhoff (UDel), Pei Chiu (UDel) and Teresa Culver (UVA)

Stormwater from roadways, wastewater facilities, and agricultural operations is a major contributor to deteriorating water quality in many watersheds in the U.S., particularly the Chesapeake Bay in the Mid-Atlantic region.  Municipalities and state departments of transportation must find ways to control their discharge to comply with increasingly stringent regulations.  Nutrients, such as nitrogen, are the leading cause of impaired water quality in the U.S. and worldwide.  Current stormwater treatment technologies, such as bioretention ponds, do not always treat nutrients sufficiently and may require sizable real estate to achieve the necessary removal – unless new technologies are developed.  Successful completion of this proposed study will lay the foundation for use of a sustainable, effective methodology for nutrient management in the field.

Would You Consider a “Green” Vehicle?

Donna Chen (UVA) and Rajesh Paleti (ODU)

The research proposed focuses on utilizing a combination of existing RP data and to-be-collected SP survey data to examine the effects of household demographic, vehicle, and transportation infrastructure characteristics on EV ownership.

For more information about these projects, visit our research page at

Upcoming Webinars: Converting Paved Roads to Unpaved Roads

Converting Paved Roads to Unpaved Roads

Tuesday April 4, 2017 from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM Mountain/ 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM Eastern

Add to Calendar

This is an online event.


The National Center for Rural Road Safety (Safety Center) and the Center for Environmentally Sustainable Transportation in Cold Climates (CESTiCC) are co-hosting a FREE, 1.5-hour online webinar.
This webinar will take place Tuesday, April 4th from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM Mountain/1:00 PM to 2:30 PM Eastern.
This webinar will provide an overview of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis 485 Converting Paved Roads to Unpaved. The webinar will present the contents of the synthesis report which summarizes the state-of-the-practice of the road conversion process, tools that can be used to aid in the decision making process of whether to convert from paved to unpaved including available resources and design guides, and what has worked and what has not worked for those in the unpaving process including public outreach and identified impacts.

To register for the webinar, please click on the button below. 
Instructions on accessing the webinar will be sent after your registration is confirmed.

Register Now!
Thank you for letting us be your “Safety Sidekick!”  We look forward to having you join us!
Jaime Sullivan
Rural Road Safety Center

IPA and Marshall University’s RTI Partner on Research of Smart-Growth Evaluation Methods

Few studies have gauged causal linkages between shifting smart-growth agendas and the development of new tools to evaluate smart-growth outcomes. To bridge this gap, a research team comprising staff of the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration (IPA) and Delaware Center for Transportation (DCT), and Marshall University’s Nick J. Rahall, II Appalachian Transportation Institute (RTI) explored factors that have both transformed the concept of smart growth and, concurrently, shaped smart growth evaluation methods and formats. Research was funded by the Mid-Atlantic Transportation Sustainability University Transportation Center (MATS UTC).

The research was conducted in two phases.  A phase one report, The Use of Smart Growth Scorecards/Assessment Tools to Advance Sustainable Land-Use Practices, was published in June 2016 and co-authored by IPA’s Marcia Scott, Philip Barnes, and William Stavru; DCT’s Mingxin Li; and RTI’s Sinaya Dayan, Curtis Jones, Justin Matthews, and Jeff Cragle.  The results of this research reveal that both the concept of smart growth and the development and use of scorecards/assessment tools have co-evolved. Shifting state and federal legislation, leadership, political agendas, and funding have shaped the extent to which smart growth practices are implemented and evaluated at the local government level.

The analysis indicates that a variety of contemporary assessment tools have been developed to provide either qualitative data and/or quantify performance on key indicators of sustainability. Transportation researchers from academia, as well as the public and private sectors, have played an important role in developing models and tools for analyzing smart-growth strategies. Travel demand models are commonly used to assess the impact of smart growth programs. Yet, considerable expertise is required to effectively utilize newer, state-of-the-practice travel forecasting models, which place them out of reach for most local jurisdictions. New assessment tools are being crafted and used to better educate and engage the public through scenario planning and the development of interactive, visualization tools. Further, digital assessment tools offer a much-needed and dynamic platform with which to satisfy mandates for increased transparency, accountability, and participatory public engagement.

A phase two report, GIS Story Maps: A Tool to Empower and Engage Stakeholders in Planning Sustainable Places, was published in October 2016. The study was conducted by IPA’s Marcia Scott and Savannah Edwards (MPA ’17), and RTI’s Sinaya Dayan, Tuan Nguyen, and Jeff Cragle. The research finds that recent changes in geospatial technology offer new opportunities for use in participatory planning processes.  Yet, civic tech as a movement, and public participation geographic information systems (PPGIS) as a discipline, have lagged behind the proliferation of new digital tools that can be leveraged for public engagement purposes.

The IPA and RTI research team used a case-study approach to explore the practical application of GIS Story Maps in planning for sustainable places.  The case-study method provides an overview of each research team’s experience using map-based storytelling, perceived effectiveness of using GIS Story Maps to convey sustainability issues, potential for using this technology to engage planning stakeholders, and lessons learned. While more research is needed, preliminary findings suggests that online, interactive GIS Story Maps are ideal for fostering citizen engagement, providing meaningful context to complex planning topics and concepts, and empowering informed decision making on sustainability issues.

Final reports for both phases of research can found on the MATS UTC website at RTI’s GIS Story Map on “Moving Towards Sustainability in Extraction Economies of Appalachia” won third place in ESRI’s 2016 International Storytelling with Maps contest in the Infrastructure, Planning, and Government category.  It may be viewed at:

RTI’s GIS Story Map

IPA created a series of GIS Story Maps to illustrate implementation of complete-communities planning practices in Delaware.  IPA’s GIS Story Map on the Downtown Development District (DDD) program was featured in an August 2016 announcement by Delaware Governor Jack about the expansion of the program and designation of five new DDDs in Delaware. This map and others may be viewed on IPA’s gallery of GIS Story Maps at:

IPA’s Gallery of GIS Story Maps

By Marcia Scott, IPA Policy Scientist

Research Spotlight: Eco-Speed Control for Diesel and Hybrid Electric Buses in the Vicinity of Signalized Intersections

Researchers at Virginia Tech (VT) and Morgan State University (MSU) are taking a serious look at reducing vehicle fuel consumption and emissions by studying some of the largest vehicles on the roads – conventional diesel and hybrid electric buses. Building on their previous research that developed an Eco-Speed Control (ESC) system to reduce fuel consumption levels for vehicles with conventional engines, the team is turning its attention to fuel savings associated with integrating buses with ESC technology.

Communication between a traffic signal controller and a vehicle equipped with a global positioning system (GPS) and communication hardware provides the VT-developed ESP system with sufficient information (vehicle position, vehicle speed and signal phasing and timing data) to compute the fuel efficient speeds. Hesham Rakha, Ph.D., P.Eng. Samuel Reynolds Pritchard Professor of Engineering in the Charles E. Via, Jr. department of civil and environmental engineering at VT and director of the Center for Sustainable Mobility at the VT Transportation Institute (VTTI), along with colleagues Hao Chen, research associate at VTTI; Mansoureh Jeihani, Ph.D., associate professor in transportation and urban infrastructure studies at MSU; and Celeste Chavis, Ph.D., assistant professor in transportation and urban infrastructure studies at MSU, are leveraging this communication, developing ESC algorithms for buses using predictive energy estimation models. These models identify optimum speed profiles using information from surrounding vehicles and upcoming signalized intersections.

The goal is to predict the most efficient speed to move a bus through an intersection and reduce ‘stop/go’ behavior, a key reason for inefficient fuel economy. The ability to move buses through intersections efficiently could result in significant fuel savings and reduced emissions.

The first phase of the study is underway, with field testing to begin this summer at the Smart Road Test Facility at VT. This full-scale, closed test bed is managed by VTTI and owned/maintained by VDOT. It features 2.2 miles of paved lanes with 14 pavement sections. Embedded sensors detect moisture, temperature, strain vibration and weigh-in motion. The facility can even create artificial snow of up to 4” per hour as well as fog. To test the ESC system tailored for buses, three test conditions will be compared and evaluated:

  1. Uninformed driver: no data will be communicated (no speed adjustment)
  2. Countdown: the bus driver will be provided with a “time to red light” countdown every 2 seconds (self-adjusted speed)
  3. Recommended speed profile: the driver will be given an audio alert every 2 seconds with a recommended speed (prescribed speed).

It is anticipated that buses traveling at the calculated, prescribed speed will realize the highest energy efficiencies. Adjusting speed by even a few miles/per hour, while reducing braking and accelerating, can have significant impact on fuel savings over time.

Vehicle Onboard Unit Hardware (Top) and Driver Interface (Bottom) in the VTTI Eco-Speed Control System

The researchers are pleased to be leveraging the resources offered by the Smart Road facility. “The test facility allows us to test our algorithms that compute optimum vehicle trajectories using real drivers in conditions as close to reality as possible without actually being on the roadways,” explained Rakha. “We can test a variety of conditions and delays without jeopardizing the safety of any surrounding vehicles.”

The MSU team will implement and test the ESC algorithms developed by VT in a driving simulator to extend the previous controlled field tests on light-duty vehicles to test under more complex conditions, such as considering different approach speeds and multiple signalized intersections.

When the project wraps up in mid-2018, the team hopes to better understand the challenges associated with dynamic traffic conditions and real-time data computation as well as the differences in responses based on vehicle powertrain type and electric battery state-of-charge. Ultimately, they hope all buses will be able to drive more efficiently near intersections, reducing travel time and fuel consumption.

For more information, contact Dr. Rakha at

Student Spotlight: Cem Sazara Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Old Dominion University

The Transportation Research Institute (TRI) at Old Dominion University (ODU) addresses critical issues in surface transportation systems. Bringing research expertise around traffic operations, intelligent transportation systems, travel demand modeling and simulation, connected vehicles, and choice modeling, TRI offers young researchers and graduate students the opportunity to work at the leading edge of innovative congestion, safety and environmental traffic solutions.

Currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Modeling, Simulation and Visualization at ODU, Cem Sazara is a member of the TRI where his research interests include autonomous vehicles, LIDAR technology and data analysis. He views traffic and congestion issues as constantly evolving, especially as increasing numbers of vehicles and commuters use transportation systems originally built for much smaller volumes of traffic. He is interested in how real-time mobile data, collected from sensors and autonomous vehicles, holds the promise of “hidden nuggets of important traffic information” not unlocked by existing stationary cameras or sensors.

Sazara is currently completing a project using LIDAR (light detection and ranging) remote sensing technology and autonomous vehicles to explore distance measurement and obstacle detection. LIDAR produces point clouds that have important information about the surrounding environment. Sazara and his research partners collected trajectory data on a two lane urban road using a Velodyne VLP-16 LIDAR. Due to the dynamic nature of data collection and limited range of the sensor, some of these trajectories had missing points or gaps. The project proposed a novel method for recovery of missing vehicle trajectory data points using microscopic traffic flow models. The final manuscript entitled, Offline Reconstruction of Missing Vehicle Trajectory Data from 3D LIDAR, is in preparation and will be presented this June at the 2017 IEEE Intelligent Vehicles Symposium in Redondo Beach, CA.

Next, Sazara will turn his attention to a MATS UTC-funded project estimating road inundation levels due to recurrent flooding. The project will develop a set of tools and analytical capabilities to estimate water inundations due to flooding using data primarily from video surveillance cameras.

Dr. Mecit Cetin, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Director of the TRI, is Sazara’s advisor. “Cem not only has excellent analytical skills and a curious mind, but also great work ethics,” said Cetin. Sazara will look to leverage these skills as he pursues a research career with either a private company or research institute in the transportation field.

“Our ability to collect data in real-time is a huge leap forward in advancing our capacity to develop innovative solutions based in true driving behaviors and congestion issues,” Sazara stated. “The Hampton Roads region has great opportunities to collaborate with government agencies and other research groups as well as interesting infrastructure such as coastal roadways, bridges and tunnels. It’s exciting to think that this sensor data could be the key to understanding and influencing traffic in a whole new way.”

Sazara received a BS in Electrical-Electronics Engineering from Bogazici University (Turkey) and an MS in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Colorado State University. He expects to graduate in 2018.

Contact Cem Sazara at