The Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and University of Missouri System have launched a new center to expand transportation research and development. University of Missouri System President Mun Choi hopes the Missouri Center for Transportation Innovation will lead to groundbreaking innovations, like the first flight by the Wright Brothers 116 years ago.

Photo courtesy of MODOT

“Just like what they did at Kitty Hawk, we have an opportunity to use innovation to make a lasting mark in creating revolutionary transportation technologies right here in Missouri,” says Choi.

MoDOT Deputy Director Ed Hassinger says innovation is a cornerstone of the department’s work.

“When we look at doing research, we’re looking at research that’s practical, that’s implementable quickly and that the citizens of Missouri can get the value out of very quickly,” says Hassinger. “The research that we do on things like pavement life and making bridges last longer is vitally important for us to be able to even survive with the level of funding we have.”

Missouri has about 34,000 miles of roads and 10,000 bridges. It ranks about 48th in the nation in revenue per mile in transportation funding. The last time Missouri increased its fuel tax to boost infrastructure funding was more than 20 years ago.

Hassinger says the state should be researching how Missouri roads perform here – not in other states.

The center will work with the Federal Highway Administration and other transportation stakeholders. Jen Harper with MoDOT says the center will also focus on attracting other research and development funding.

“The hope is that through those collaborations, that they start forming those teams, that they are going to be able to bring in more national research, as well as some pooled funds with other states that we’re going to bring in other states’ research funds and start doing projects here in Missouri instead of us sending money to other states to do those projects,” she says.

Harper says as the center grows, bigger research projects like Hyperloop could be involved. Hyperloop is a futuristic tube travel system that is said to haul people from Kansas City to St. Louis in about 30 minutes. Some state officials want to build a Hyperloop along I-70 and have a private company run the operation.

Bill Buttlar, an engineering professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia, will serve as the center’s director. He calls Missouri a “hotbed for innovation”.

“Transportation can have a tremendous impact on economies,” Buttlar says. “When we invest in transportation and infrastructure the states economies just boon. Research itself has like a 17 to 1 return on investment.”

According to Harper, the startup costs for the center are minimal and will be mostly absorbed through existing funding.

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