Michigan\'s research universities start transportation consortium

March 3, 2010

URC Executive Director Jeff Mason talks with the URC presidents.Transportation research has always been a long-term interest of the University Research Corridor, but now the URC will step up its involvement by building partnerships through a new transportation research consortium.

The goal is to find ways to transform the regional, state, national and, ultimately, global transportation industries.

Transforming Transportation: Economies & Communities (TTEC) is a new program to promote multidisciplinary, multi-institutional research that supports industry, community and government policymaking and planning. The three URC institutions---Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University---are each holding meetings with their campus researchers to prepare for an inaugural transportation summit to be held in Detroit in October of this year.

"The intent of the initiative is to build research teams composed of university, community, business and government partners in an effort to better understand transport of people and products in ways that also stimulate innovative approaches to economic development," said Hiram Fitzgerald, associate provost for university outreach and engagement at MSU.

"Michigan is an iconic hub of transportation and innovation, and is situated geographically near the center of the United States and Canada. Our technological assets and strategic geographical position can be combined with the intellectual strengths of Michigan's three great research universities to help make Michigan a major player in fulfilling the world's transportation needs in the future."

The TTEC is an opportunity to leverage the collective resources and create a comprehensive program. The rapid change in the transportation environment has profoundly affected the state and regional economy and has created widespread community disruption.

Recent U-M estimates, for example, indicate that between mid-2000 and 2009, the state is expected to have lost almost a million jobs or one-fifth of its work force with much of that loss related to transportation fields.

Peter Sweatman, director of the U-M Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI), said the group is taking a wide-ranging approach to developing improvements to the nation's transportation system.

"Transportation is a complex system that extends beyond cars, although cars are certainly a critical part of the mix," Sweatman said. "There are social, economic, policy and security issues and, of course, sustainability and climate change must be part of any effort to transform the system. This is not just a question of technology."

Susan Zielinski, managing director of UMTRI's Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation (SMART) initiative, said, "Sitting at the historic epicenter of transportation innovation, Michigan is right now strategically placed to reclaim that role with the benefit of this consortium---to innovate and supply the kind of sophisticated, multifaceted solutions, as well as the new business, financial and policy models needed to support and transform economies and communities---not only in Michigan but globally."

Allen Batteau, an anthropologist who heads Wayne State's Institute for Information Technology and Culture, explained that the goal of the group is to be forward-thinking and seek opportunities for positive change. He noted that while the challenges faced by the auto industry have created severe disruption and economic hardship, they also have created opportunities.

"This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink fundamental assumptions," Batteau said. "We can't let this opportunity pass us by, and the research universities have an obligation to help point the way."

The University Research Corridor presidents aligned in November 2006 to improve understanding of the vital role the three universities play in revitalizing the state's economy. The collaborative effort is designed to disseminate useful information for key stakeholders, including the business community, researchers and students, policymakers and other partners.

In doing so, the universities hope to enhance their collaborative efforts, accelerate technology transfer and development and demonstrate the advantages of doing business in Michigan.

The URC, an alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, was founded to leverage the power of Michigan's research universities to transform, strengthen and diversify the state's economy. A recent study found that the three universities have a combined impact on the state's economy of $14.5 billion. To learn more, visit