By STEVEN NALLEY
Mississippi State University announced Monday it received a $3.5 million National Center for Intermodal Transportation for Economic Competitiveness grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The project’s principal investigator is Burak Eksioglu, an associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at MSU. Eksioglu said NCITEC is not a physical building and the grant does not create any new facilities. Rather, he said, NCITEC will allow MSU researchers and staff to conduct new research on transportation issues.
“If an item (or a person) uses two or more modes of transportation in going from its (or his/her) origin to destination, then we call that ‘intermodal transportation,’” Eksioglu said. “So, we want to make it safer for goods and people to move from origin to destination while they change modes of transportation. We also want to make intermodal transportation more economical. The freight transportation in the U.S. is fairly well developed, but with respect to moving passengers over an intermodal system, (the) U.S. is behind some European and Asian countries.”
Eksioglu said NCITEC is actually a consortium of five institutions: the University of Denver, the University of Mississippi, Louisiana State University, Hampton University and MSU in a leadership position. On the MSU front, the departments of industrial and systems engineering (ISE) and civil and environmental engineering (CEE) will house NCITEC operations, he said. Currently, NCITEC seeks proposals for education, research, workforce development and technology transfer from each of its members, he said.
“All proposals will go through a rigorous review process, and we will distribute most of the $3.5 million that we received to investigators whose proposals are highly rated,” Eksioglu said. “Being the lead institution means that MSU gets national exposure and publicity. It also means that USDOT sees MSU as the point of contact. Each time USDOT visits a center, they will go to visit the lead institution.”
Royce Bowden, associate dean of academic affairs at the Bagley College of Engineering, said MSU has a long history of intermodal transportation research.
“This grant will allow the continuation of that research and the expansion of that research as well,” Bowden said. “With a larger amount of funding, (staff can conduct) an additional number of research projects or the same number of projects with increased amounts of funding. (In the latter case,) you’re able to take the research a little deeper than you could previously.”
John Usher, interim ISE head, said NCITEC is successor to a National Center for Intermodal Transportation USDOT funded previously at MSU. When NCIT ended, Usher said USDOT wanted to start from scratch, giving all universities the chance to re-apply.
“Dr. Eksioglu fronted a team of universities in a collaborative effort to re-establish an NCIT center,” Usher said. “This is a wonderful opportunity. This could impact things for many years to come.”
Usher said the new transportation approaches NCITEC investigates could reduce costs and increase efficiency. He said MSU was privileged to lead this research.
Eksioglu said some of the NCITEC grant could be used to help Mississippi improve its own transportation network.
“NCITEC is a national center, but we certainly want to improve our state’s transportation system,” Eksioglu said. “We are looking to collaborate with Mississippi DOT’s research group to identify issues that require our expertise. The grant we received cannot be used to build infrastructure, but it can certainly be used to conduct feasibility studies that are critical to analyze and improve Mississippi’s intermodal transportation system.”
Eksioglu said NCITEC also plans to educate K-12 teachers on intermodal transportation issues. Those teachers can then educate the next generation of transportation professionals, he said.
“In terms of workforce development projects, we plan to organize workshops for those professionals who are already employed in the transportation area,” Eksioglu said. “With respect to technology transfer projects, we plan to make the results of our research studies available to transportation professionals. This could simply be a seminar organized for transportation professionals. Technology transfer could also be a tool, such as a decision support system that could be used by transportation professionals.”