Author Archives: Jennifer Butler

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

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

May 6 Green and Blue Highways Symposium (with Registration Links!)

Green & Blue Highways Symposium: Environmental Sustainability Best Practices for Transportation

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm
VT Executive Briefing Center, 900 North Glebe Road, Arlington, VA

In person registration:

The current schedule is available as a PDF document:  Symposium Agenda and is posted below.  One Page Flyer

See below for webinar registration links.

On Wednesday, May 6, transportation experts from across the nation will gather at the Virginia Tech Executive Briefing Center in Arlington, Virginia to share ideas on transportation planning and engineering best practices that have the potential to impact the health of the environment. Convened by the Mid-Atlantic Transportation Sustainability Center Region 3 University Transportation Center (MATS UTC) and open to all, the symposium will provide a forum to consider “green” and “blue” approaches to infrastructure design and management within an economic, social and environmental framework.

“This symposium really provides the opportunity to envision the future of the green and blue highway transportation system as well as expose people to MATS UTC and get them thinking about transportation sustainability,” states Emily Parkany, P.E., Managing Director of MATS UTC. “When we gather together as practitioners, researchers, and policy makers, we can make significant strides in tackling sustainability issues from a wide variety of perspectives. The format of the symposium, which encourages interactive discourse among leading experts and participants, will inform interested parties as well as stimulate potential new collaborations and partnerships to address congestion, energy supply, environmental impacts and climate change, as well as other unmet transportation challenges.”

Brian Smith, P.E., Director of MATS UTC, agrees.  “Now is the time to focus on environmental sustainability. Building upon strong successful university/industry/agency partnerships, we have the ability to push research and education to create truly innovative offerings in transportation sustainability that have a direct impact on the mid-Atlantic region.”

Sessions will focus on identifying engineering best practices and strategic research needs in the areas of sustainable materials, asset management, sustainability rating systems, transportation and stormwater management, system resilience and transferring research to practice.  All sessions will be available as webinars (see below for registration links) and recorded sessions will be available after the meeting at

Elise Barrella, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Engineering at James Madison University and the organizer of the event, hopes that the symposium turns ideas and research into action and implementation. “The interactive nature of the sessions is specifically intended to challenge people’s views about how we tackle sustainability issues. The transportation industry has a major impact on the environment yet it also has a huge opportunity to be a driving force in creating solutions.”

The in-person registration link is available here.  Registration includes a light breakfast and lunch. The event has been approved for professional development credit, including a certificate of completion.

The sessions have been divided into three free WEBINARS.  Please sign up for the webinars that interest you by clicking on the hyperlink for each webinar:

10am – 12pm: The Role of Rating Systems
12:45 – 2pm: Life Cycle and Asset Management
2:15 – 4pm: Blue Highways (Stormwater, Climate Impact, Resilience and General Discussion)

The current schedule is available as a PDF document Symposium AgendaOne Page Flyer

DRAFT AGENDA – Green & Blue Highways: Environmental Sustainability Best Practices for Transportation

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 10am-4pm

VT Executive Briefing Center, 900 North Glebe Road, Arlington, VA

9:30-10:00 Registration & Light Breakfast

10:00-10:45 Introduction (MATS UTC) & Keynote Speaker (Sustainability State of the Practice – Measuring and Monitoring – Dr. Josias Zietsman, Texas Transportation Institute & Chair of TRB Transportation Sustainability Committee)

10:45-11:15 Sustainability Rating Systems: Case Studies of FHWA’s INVEST (Dr. Connie Hill, FHWA Sustainable Transport and Climate Change Team)

11:15-11:45 Sustainability Rating Systems: Role in Advancing Environmental Sustainability (Dr. Gary McVoy, McVoy Associates LLC)

11:45-12:00 Discussion

12:00-12:45 Lunch

12:45-1:15 Sustainable Materials & Lifecycle Assessment (Georgene M. Geary, GGfGA Engineering, LLC)

1:15-1:45 Managing Transportation System Health/Asset Management (Dr. Gerardo Flintsch, Virginia Tech)

1:45-2:00 Discussion

2:00-2:15 Break

2:15-2:45 Blue Highways: Transportation and Stormwater Management (Ginny Snead, Louis Berger)

2:45-3:15 Climate Impacts and Resiliency of Transportation Network (Sam S. Belfield, Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization)

3:15-4:00 Discussion: Research Needs and Transferring Research to Practice

*Note: All Speakers and Titles Subject to Change

For more information, contact Elise Barrella at or 540-568-7621.

Simultaneous Removal of Nitrogen and Phosphorus from Stormwater by Zero-Valent Iron and Biochar in Bioretention Cells

Pei Chiu, Ph.D., Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Delaware
Paul Imhoff, Ph.D., Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Delaware
Teresa Culver, Ph.D., Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Virginia

The biofilter; water is slowly filtering into the soil among plantsdiagram of the waster process

Increasingly stringent regulatory requirements to control stormwater contaminants may require states and municipalities to purchase real estate in order to provide sufficient stormwater treatment. Alternatively, a potentially more environmentally friendly and cost-effective approach, emphasizing beneficial reuse of waste materials, is gaining attention.

Several years ago, Pei Chiu, Ph.D. and Paul Imhoff, Ph.D., along with others at the University of Delaware (UD) and Delaware State University, joined forces to explore this alternative approach to nutrient and stormwater management. As colleagues at the University of Delaware, Chiu’s expertise in chemical and microbiological processes aligned with Imhoff’s expertise in physical transport and modeling to create a strong collaboration to explore alternative ways to remove nutrient contaminants, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, from soil and surface water using two waste products, biochar or zero-valent iron (ZVI).

Biochar, also known as ‘green charcoal’, is produced from agricultural residues or renewable biomass such as wood chips, grass clippings or poultry waste.  ZVI is metallic iron found, for example, in iron filings produced from steel manufacturing. Readily available and inexpensive, these waste materials have been tested separately to remove or degrade a range of contaminants in wastewater, soil, and groundwater.

Through the MATS UTC research program, Chiu and Imhoff teamed up with Teresa Culver, Ph.D., from the University of Virginia, an expert in nutrient management for complex watershed-stream-aquifer systems. With Culver’s extensive field study experience, and the UD researchers’ laboratory capabilities, the team was set to investigate the effectiveness of combining biochar and ZVI as amendments to soil media in bioretention systems to achieve enhanced treatment efficiency.

Laboratory experiments to evaluate the ability of biochar and ZVI to promote nitrate and phosphorus removal from stormwater are underway at UD, in parallel with a field study being developed in Charlottesville, Virginia. The UD team is also conducting a separate field study in Newark, DE. These sites will examine the effectiveness of the combined amendments under different soil and weather conditions. Together, these research activities will demonstrate whether these waste materials can work synergistically to yield greater treatment efficiency.

The researchers are hopeful that positive results could create a new market sector for these materials.  Already produced by commercial distributors for various applications, biochar and ZVI could represent a “green” solution to cleaning-up stormwater contamination. To implement this “combined amendment” strategy may require only minor alterations in established stormwater management practices so rapid adoption is possible. Future work will focus on the longevity of this treatment approach and its performance over seasons and in different geographical locations.

“MATS UTC has opened the door to a very promising new collaboration, not only among the investigators but also with our partners such as the City of Charlottesville and Infinite Solutions L3C,” says Chiu. “We are definitely seeing the cross-fertilization of ideas through our many discussions.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to translate lab experiments into field results that could help address a real problem. I foresee this team working together for years to come.”

The team is currently seeking an industrial partner to pursue SBIR/STTR funding.

For further information, contact Pei Chiu at 302-831-3104 or

Network-wide Impacts of Eco-routes and Route Choice Behavior/Evaluation of AERIS Applications

Hesham Rakha, Ph.D., Center for Sustainable Mobility, Virginia Tech
Kyoungho Ahn, Ph.D., Center for Sustainable Mobility, Virginia Tech
Mecit Cetin, Ph.D., Center for Innovative Transportation Solutions, Old Dominion University
Brian Park, Ph.D., Center for Transportation Studies, University of Virginia

Graphic of a gas pump with a tree logo

Recognizing that environmentally-relevant real-time transportation data is critical for creating information upon which “green” transportation choices can be facilitated, the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office of the US Department of Transportation created a research program titled, “Applications for the Environment: Real-Time Information Synthesis (AERIS).” Its purpose is to enable the development of technologies that create a more sustainable relationship between transportation operations and the environment through fuel use reductions and resulting emissions reductions. Based upon input from leading researchers in the field, the program is investigating the potential of operational scenarios, such as eco-signal, eco-routes and eco-lanes, to achieve environmental benefits.

Researchers at Virginia Tech, ODU and U.Va. have taken the challenge seriously.  Interested in the network-wide benefits of various AERIS applications, this MATS UTC-sponsored collaborative research project is exploring how such applications as eco-routing and eco-lanes, utilizing connected vehicle technology, can potentially reduce urban congestion, vehicle fuel consumption levels and greenhouse gas emissions. Similar to current GPS navigation systems that provide information on the fastest route to a specific destination, eco-routes identify the most fuel-efficient route for a vehicle between two points. Eco-lanes are similar to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes but target low-emission and high-occupancy vehicles as well as trucks and transit vehicles. To use the eco-lanes, vehicles are required to operate at recommended or variable speeds to reduce energy consumption. To lay the groundwork for wide-spread adoption of these strategies, the research team is creating simulation testbeds and robust models to better understand optimal operational conditions, real-time predictive capabilities and driver compliance issues.

Preliminary work is underway at Virginia Tech’s Center for Sustainable Mobility. Hesham Rakha, Ph,D., and Kryoungho Ahn, Ph.D., are leading efforts to develop predictive eco-routing algorithms focused on predicting the onset of congestion so that eco-routing operations can be provided to approaching vehicles.  Importantly, they are developing a real-time monitoring system that will continuously evaluate energy and environmental impacts using real-time traffic data. In addition, the team is developing algorithms to characterize optimum eco-lane conditions such as the spatial and temporal boundaries under various traffic conditions.

Mecit Cetin, Ph.D, of ODU’s Center for Innovative Transportation Solutions, is leading efforts to predict network conditions from probe vehicle data at recurrent bottlenecks to support eco-routing operations.  Traffic conditions at these bottlenecks are typically more volatile, making reliable prediction a challenge.  Robust prediction models will be assessed to determine their ability to provide reliable travel-time or delay information under varying conditions.

Underpinning these efforts is the need to understand issues around driver adoption and compliance. Brian Park, Ph.D., of U.Va.’s Center for Transportation Studies, is developing a testbed and modeling capabilities to assess drivers’ compliance on guided routes depending on the time of day, trip purpose and the quality of existing and alternative routes.

At the project’s completion, the researchers hope to have evaluated how all of the systems work together and have a better understanding of prediction, implementation and adoption issues. In particular, Rakha suggests that, “these operations have the capacity to change reality in the future.  If we use data collected today to predict traffic conditions tomorrow and we provide those predictions to drivers, then they have the opportunity to alter those conditions by taking different routes.  In essence, they’re changing the future.”

At the very least, adoption of these types of operational scenarios is expected to reduce fuel costs and congestion. “If these systems can achieve a 5-10% savings on fuel costs, you can imagine the positive economic impact for trucking and bus fleets as well as the overall positive impact on the environment,” suggests Rakha.   “Perhaps, more importantly, we have to consider the long term impact.  We have to care about these types of initiatives. Negative environmental impacts are slowly killing us.  We had better care.”

Building on previous research funded by AERIS related to eco-drive systems and eco-cooperative adaptive cruise control systems, as well as initial funding received from the TranLIVE UTC (Transportation for Livability by Integrating Vehicles and the Environment) at the University of Idaho, this MATS UTC project has brought together Virginia-based universities around common interests and aligned areas of expertise.  “This project has opened the door for the team to pursue additional funding in this domain of research,” explains Rakha.  “Ultimately, we hope to change the way that transportation affects the environment so that everyone benefits.”

For additional information, contact Hesham Rakha at 540-231-1505 or

MATS UTC Hosted Students from Bedford Country, VA

Andrei Ramniceanu shows the lab to studentsMATS UTC at UVa hosted gifted elementary school children from two schools in Bedford County, as part of school field trips on March 20 and 27. The students had been doing some basic engineering projects in class – model bridge/structure building with everyday objects. While at UVa’s School of Engineering, they participated in various activities including testing concrete specimens in the structures lab.

MATS UTC Student of the Year: Afi Anuar

Professional photo of Afi Anuar

Student of Year:  Khairul (Afi) Anuar

Graduate Student

Transportation Research Institute
Old Dominion University


For the past 24 years, the US Department of Transportation has honored outstanding students from each UTC in a special ceremony held during the Council of University Transportation Centers’ (CUTC) annual banquet as part of the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) annual meeting. Recognized for outstanding academic performance, technical merit, professionalism and leadership, each student representing a UTC from across the country receives $1000 and a complimentary registration to attend the annual meeting.

When Khairul (Afi) Anuar learned that he had been selected as the 2015 Region 3 MATS UTC student of the year, he was flattered and surprised. A PhD student in civil engineering at Old Dominion University (ODU), Afi’s focus on transportation issues runs deep. He is interested in understanding the linkages between support for planning/policy issues and perceptions of environmental issues. He has also studied multi-modal transportation, focusing on logistics and freight transportation, and is interested in traffic flow theory primarily utilizing emerging probe vehicle technology.

“This award is an incredible morale-booster,” Afi explains. “For me, it has reinforced the importance of pursuing research projects that contribute to our understanding of sustainable transportation practices.” Research advisor, Dr. Mecit Cetin, concurs. “This UTC award definitely increased Afi’s motivation to connect his research to larger transportation sustainability issues. When implemented, Afi’s research on predicting traffic flow conditions based on probe vehicle and fixed sensor data will improve the state of practice and give public agencies new tools to better manage traffic to minimize delays and environmental impacts of surface transportation.”

To that end, Afi is exploring the use of mobile sensors, such as GPS, to identify bottlenecks and other traffic conditions. These issues are currently addressed using stationary sensors that provide data only at a specific location. “Static sensors are expensive to install and operate and they only provide a snapshot of information at a specific location. Mobile sensors have the capacity to provide much more relevant information all along a given route, giving us much better information to evaluate and respond to traffic conditions, such as delays, queues and incidents.” Although Afi’s focus is on the technical aspects of harvesting data from probes and fixed sensors to better predict network conditions, he contemplates that privacy issues may pose the biggest threat to widespread adoption.

In February, Afi presented the research on mobile and stationary detectors at the ITE spring meeting in Charlottesville.  “It was an eye-opener for me,” he says. “I met so many people from outside of academia who come from so many different fields within the transportation industry. Yet we’re all tackling common issues.”

His interactions with MATS UTC have broadened his perspective about potential applications and implications for the public. “My interest in transportation issues was always research-based.  I would sit at my computer and work on different modeling challenges without necessarily thinking about the broader context.  Working with other researchers at the UTC has given me new ways of looking at problems from different viewpoints.  To have real value, transportation challenges should be addressed within the framework of an economic, policy and market strategy and not just be theoretically-based.”

Ultimately, Afi hopes to pursue academics and inspire young civil engineers to appreciate the importance of the transportation field. “It’s not just about roads and bridges – it’s about the vehicles and drivers on top of those structures.  It’s not just about materials and designs – it’s about making steady technical advances that address safety and environmental impacts.”

Afi received his MS degrees in civil engineering from Old Dominion University and in industrial technology from Eastern Kentucky University. He holds a BS degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Hartford.  In addition, he has completed a graduate certificate in maritime, ports and logistics management from Old Dominion University.

May 6 Symposium: Environmental Sustainability Best Practices for Transportation

Save the date for Green & Blue Highways Symposium: Environmental Sustainability Best Practices for Transportation

Wednesday, May 6, 2015 10am-4pm

VT Executive Briefing Center, Arlington, VA

Webinar option will also be available. Registration information and agenda to follow.

According to AASHTO’s report Transportation: Invest in Our Future, “America’s transportation system…faces the challenges of congestion, energy supply, environmental impacts, climate change, and sprawl that threaten to undermine the economic, social, and environmental future of the nation. With 140 million more people expected over the next 50 years, past practices and current trends are not sustainable.” In light of MAP-21’s inclusion of environmental sustainability as a key performance area, dissemination of best practices in this area and identification of research needs will rise in importance nationally. This symposium will focus specifically on transportation planning and engineering best practices that can enhance the health of the environment, a key dimension of the sustainability triple bottom line. Expert speakers and panelists will share “green” and “blue” approaches to infrastructure design and management that are also cost effective and reflect local context.

Topics will include:

  • Sustainable Materials
  • Asset Management
  • Sustainability Rating Systems
  • Transportation & Stormwater Management
  • System Resiliency
  • Transferring Research to Practice

Learn about best practices, discuss “what’s next”, and earn professional development hours.