University of Central Florida transportation experts –- led by civil engineering professor Essam Radwan -– are part of a team that has been awarded $3.5 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation to establish a Southeast-based university research center to study the nation’s transportation needs and provide hard data to improve transportation systems across the country.

The Southeast regional center is one of 22 such hubs funded for a total of $77 million by the DOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA). The centers are poised to address critical transportation challenges and educate the next generation of transportation professionals.

Led by Georgia Tech, the Southeast hub will also include Florida International University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham and will focus on transportation systems performance and management, specifically dealing with safety, transportation infrastructure and services and economic competitiveness.

Dr. Radwan’s UCF team, which includes researchers at the Center for Advanced Transportation Systems Simulation (CATSS), is expected to compete for up to $800,000, to be equally matched by non-federal sources, for contributing research and education expertise in selected areas. These areas include distracted drivers, the effects of drowsiness and fatigue on drivers, intelligent and safe construction work zones, pedestrian safety, infrastructure integrity, economic development in core metropolitan regions, surrounding rural areas and the mega-region, and efficient movement of freight.

A group from UCF’s Institute for Simulation and Training that uses a driving simulator to study the impact of multiple distractions behind the wheel is part of the team.

Each center will work with local, regional and state transportation agencies to help find solutions to challenges that directly impact their communities and affect the efficiency of the nation’s transportation system.

The grant is expected to continue for a second year at $3.5 million and will also include dollar for dollar matching funds from non-federal sources.