Research Projects

Private vs. Public Financing of Transportation Systems,” U.S. Department of Transportation, 2012 to 2013.


It has become increasingly important for industry leaders to consider the impacts of infrastructure privatization as a method for roadway and transportation systems development as the nation’s infrastructure ages and becomes increasingly in need of repair or reconstruction.  This comes at a time when governments face shortfalls in needed funds for repair, maintenance and new roadway or transportation systems development.


Popular debate alludes to the idea that privatization will allow the nation to cover funding gaps, increase efficiency and provide other benefits to users and tax payers.  Privatization of transportation systems has already begun with notable key projects in the US and various venues throughout the world and this project will draw on what has been learned from these projects domestic or international.


This study addresses both direct and indirect costs associated with one procurement method versus the other and specifically address the fallacy of comparing cost of procurement as the financial cost for a private investor defined by its return on invested capital, with the cost for the tax payer defined by the cost of public debt.



Transportation Funding for a Changing Light-Duty Vehicle Fleet: Pricing Model and Evaluation of Impacts on Society,” U.S. Department of Transportation, 2012 to 2013.


Changing light-duty vehicle fleet composition due to increased fuel economy standards and alternatively fuel vehicles have caused a decline in transportation revenue for surface transportation programs by requiring that less fuel be consumed per-capita. This project investigates the impact that the changing vehicle fleet has on transportation funding and proposes alternative transportation funding strategies that are not sensitive to fuel consumption much like state and federal gas taxes. Pricing models are proposed for each alternative strategy, which meet funding and equity objectives, and societal impacts are assessed. Finally, policy and implementation recommendations are made.



“Integration of Data Sources to Optimize Freight Transportation in Texas,” (with W. O’Brien, D. Seedah, A. Smit and S. Hernandez), Center for Transportation Research, Texas Department of Transportation, 2011 to 2014.


Freight transportation is critical to the economic prosperity of any region. The challenge, however, lies in disaggregating freight transportation demand to flows that can be assigned onto a state and region’s transportation network. Disaggregated freight flows are necessary to:

         provide a clear picture of freight movements on the transportation system;

         determine the impact of freight on a region’s infrastructure and the implications in terms of funding;

         evaluate strategies for improving freight mobility;

         forecast system performance;

         mitigate impacts of truck traffic on general mobility, and

         to improve the safety performance of the transportation system.


The passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 initiated an increasing interest in freight modeling within statewide planning efforts, particularly the evaluation of current and future freight transportation capacity necessary to ensure freight mobility. Although freight models have started to emerge as tools to inform transportation policies, a critical challenge in the development of these models remains insufficient and inferior quality data. The objectives of this study are (a) to develop a strategy for integrating and collecting available freight data, (b) explore the feasibility of entering into a data sharing partnership with the freight community for the collection of detailed and robust freight data that will satisfy the needs of transportation planning agencies, (c) develop a prototype Freight Data Architecture Business Process, Logical Data Model and Physical Data Model documents supporting a separate IT project developing a database, and (d) advise TxDOT on the cost-effectiveness of acquiring and maintaining a freight data sharing partnership to populate the Freight Data Architecture.



“Examining the Use of Existing Public Rights-Of-Way for High-Speed Rail or Other Infrastructure,” (with S. Mattingly, Y. Qi, T. Clower and S. Ardekani), Center for Transportation Research, Texas Department of Transportation, 2011 to 2013.


                  The administrative difficulties, delays, costs, and environmental impacts associated with the acquisition of property for transportation projects point to a need to consider utilizing existing right-of-way (ROW) resources to the greatest extent possible. The primary purpose of this research work plan is to determine if and how existing TxDOT, public, utility and freight rail ROW can potentially accommodate high-speed intercity passenger rail (HSIPR) and/or dedicated freight transportation systems. A number of states have considered and have chosen existing highway, public, freight rail, and utility ROW for preferred alignments for HSIPR, such as Florida (I-4, freight rail, utility, and Orlando airport ROW) and California (I-5, I-10, and freight rail). To answer the research question for Texas, all potential ROW routes in Texas will be identified and their key characteristics considered for utilization by a spectrum of HSIPR and dedicated freight systems. At least four of those routes will be evaluated in greater detail for technical, political, and legal feasibility. For those four case studies, the study will develop potential solutions to engineering challenges encountered in the ROW, such as highway interchanges and narrow ROW width. The case study research will include meetings and interviews with affected ROW owners and critical stakeholders.



“Identify and Demonstrate the Importance of Texas’ Freight Corridors,” Center for Transportation Research, Texas Department of Transportation, 2010 to 2013.


This study will provide assistance to the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) in pursuing funding for high-priority freight corridors in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and any subsequent funding authorized under other transportation legislation or programs.


The results of this study will allow TxDOT to demonstrate the national importance of its freight corridors when motivating for federal funding forthcoming from the ARRA funds over the short term and from the new transportation funding bill and any other legislation or programs over the medium to long term.  The developed performance measure can also be used to evaluate future freight investments and assist the agency in making informed decisions when prioritizing investments in strategic freight corridors.



“Technical Assistance to the Austin District of Texas Department of Transportation,” Center for Transportation Research, Texas Department of Transportation, 2006 to 2013.


This project aims at providing technical services to Austin district of Texas Department of Transportation in a number of areas, including Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) equipment and systems analysis, active traffic management strategies, traffic asset management system evaluation, graphic routing information panel design and investigation, and the strategic location identification for road weather sensors, etc. For example, active traffic management study focuses on the dynamic traffic system that deploys various ITS technologies to address real time traffic management and control, including speed harmonization, queue warning, hard shoulder running, dynamic rerouting, travel time signs, dynamic rerouting signs, ramp meter control, and managed lanes. Active traffic management has been gaining traction in the United States in recent years.  Although it has been implemented and well documented in several highways in Europe, there remains a lot of uncertainty about its implementation on highways in the United States. Several active traffic management strategies have been proposed and designed for the I-35 freeway including the queue warning system, ramp metering system, and an innovative mainline gap metering system. Both the mobility and safety impact of those systems are evaluated through micro-simulation. In this project, we have also evaluated GIS-based asset management systems for fiber and electrical system operated by the Austin District. We developed a graphic routing information panel to facilitate traffic information dissemination. An online survey with real-world simulation of the signs is developed to obtain commuters’ feedback about this system. In addition to basic statistical analysis of the survey results, a Logit model is employed to investigate the significance of various drivers’ characteristics and design attributes impacting the effectiveness of the panels. To help the Austin District to deploy new road weather sensors, a spatial optimization model has been developed to determine the optimal sensor locations based on weather-related crash rate.



“Rider 36 Oversize/Overweight Vehicle Fees Study,” (with J.A. Prozzi, M. Murphy, A. Smit, R. Harrison, L. Loftus, J. Weissmann and A. Weissmann), Center for Transportation Research, Texas Department of Transportation, 2011 to 2013.


There is a lack of clear understanding among the general public and the State Legislature regarding the damage that oversized and overweight (OS/OW) vehicles traffic cause on the Texas transportation infrastructure and the related operational costs. In order to be sustainable, Texas’ transportation system must be properly funded, with cost allocation correctly aligned to each user through permit fees. During this project the research team will evaluate the damage that OS/OW vehicles (including exempt vehicles) cause to the transportation infrastructure (including roads and bridges). Based on this evaluation the researchers will perform a thorough cost analysis to quantify all direct and indirect cost associated with this damage and associated expenses that result from this damage. Once all cost elements are determined, the researchers will provide recommendations for permit fees and fee structure adjustments including highway maintenance fees to properly compensate for the damages caused.


To address the damage determination, the researchers will calculate the ratio of the overall impacts to the infrastructure between freight vehicles operating within defined, legal GVW and axle load limits and those the state allows to operate beyond those limits. This will be done by applying the concepts of Load Equivalency Factor (LEF) and Equivalent Damage Factor (EDF). A mechanistic approach calibrated to Texas conditions will be applied that is consistent with the approach proposed by Federal Highway Administration (PaveDAT) and based on the Mechanistic-Empirical Pavement Design Guide (MEPDG), which is endorsed by AASHTO. By selecting this approach, the research will provide the Department and the State a method that is also supported and promoted at the federal and state levels.


By reviewing and summarizing existing databases, representative axle configurations and vehicles, routes and pavement structures will be identified to calculate an average fee structure for the state; however, the developed methodology will be implemented in an Excel spreadsheet and will enable the calculation of specific fees for a given vehicle configuration on a given route. This methodology is consistent with the current approach used by the Motor Carrier Division but it will be updated to provide a more realistic fee structure.



“Strategic Marketing Program,” (with I. Cunningham), Center for Transportation Research, Texas Department of Transportation, 2011 to 2014.


The research will develop a cohesive and coordinated marketing plan for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) that will continue to support and enhance the objectives that have been pursued to date by TxDOT and its Divisions. This effort will be executed in two phases: (1) Phase 1 will comprise a Strength-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis of current TxDOT marketing practices, as well as a state-of-the-practice review of the marketing plans, objectives, and targeted audiences of a select number of peer states and (2) Phase 2 will comprise the development of an integrated marketing program for TxDOT, metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of TxDOT communication program(s), and an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of developing an integrated brand image for TxDOT. 



“Manage the Transportation System,” (with Z. Zhang, R. Machemehl, C. Bhat and L. Gao), Center for Transportation Research, Texas Department of Transportation, 2012.


This research will investigate an integrated approach to better manage the Texas transportation system under limited funding, where a multi-tier management system could be established. Resources will be allocated among tiers according to their level of service and performance goals. Moreover, a user fee backed public finance mechanism is also part of the proposed system. In addition, the research will develop an optimization method to address infrastructure deterioration and mobility problems together. With optimization process, given a set of infrastructure maintenance and mobility improvement projects, the proposed method will select the optimal combination of projects under limited funding by maximizing the overall system performance. The proposed idea is an integrated approach to identifying the proper funding strategy and integrated maintenance, operations, and finance, aiming at maintaining Texas’s economic competitiveness and support Texas’s sustainable economic growth.