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2008-2009 Director's Message

Fiscal year 2009 was another very good year for the Utah Transportation Center (UTC). We ended the first year of effort on the Federal Highway Administration Long Term Bridge Performance (LTBP) Program, with our research partners, the Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation at Rutgers University, and the Virginia Transportation Research Council along with Virginia Tech University; we also constructed and began using a new large scale structures testing laboratory which will be immensely useful as we move forward in doing research on the LTBP program and for the Utah Department of Transportation (see our 2008-09 Annual Report). These major milestones are in addition to the 13 other research projects being conducted by UTC colleagues; four of these projects are new for fiscal year 2009.

The funding situation for the UTC continues to be very positive. The base UTC funding from the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) was leveraged by a 2.71:1 ratio, the best we have done yet at the UTC! The funding was from a variety of sources, FHWA, UDOT, and Utah State University being the major contributors.

As good a year as 2009 was for the UTC, I would like to look forward rather than review the past, as the next few years will be critical not only for transportation research and education but for the whole surface transportation system in the United States. The current surface transportation authorization bill, SAFETEA-LU, will expire on September 30, 2009. It is apparent that a new bill will not be passed through Congress and signed into law by the President before that day. A long term continuing resolution bill is being discussed even as the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is trying to prepare a bill to be passed by the deadline. I do not see any way that a well crafted bill, that aggressively and thoughtfully addresses the critical issues, can be prepared by September 30. 

Rather than rush an inadequate bill, it is my opinion that a long term continuing resolution on the order of two years would be a better response at this time. For the most part this bill could be a roll over of the existing bill, with the one important exception being the Highway Trust Fund revenue issue. This must be addressed in any continuing resolution to properly fund the Trust Fund and avoid the very real possibility of not being able to fund all that is authorized by SAFETEA-LU, which we would all agree is a minimum funding schedule.

By eliminating the pressure of producing a bill before the expiration of SAFETEA-LU, the Congress can take their time, hold hearings, discuss the infrastructure needs, examine potential alternative revenue schemes aside from the fuel user fee, and most of all, develop a visionary bill that begins to address the triumvirate of issues critical to the United States: 1) the use of fossil fuels in automobiles; 2) the production of COby automobiles; and, 3) the need for infrastructure renewal (including safety). The need to begin addressing these issues is at a critical point in time, any delay may have dire consequences in terms of the economy and global climate change.

Now is the time for Congress to act with a vision for the next 50 years, to redefine a surface transportation system that will be clean, safe, efficient and an economic tool (as the Interstate was for our generation) for the future generations that will occupy this great land. It is my hope that in a new surface transportation authorization bill that the university transportation centers will be recognized by the Congress for the key role they play and that sufficient funding will be provided to the centers that they might perform research necessary to the redefining and reconstruction of the surface transportation system and provide the transportation engineers that will be needed to design, construct and operate such a new system

From Kevin C. Womack, Ph.D, P.E., F.ASCE