NTRC: Accelerating the Transportation Revolution

160 researchers from Oak Ridge National Lab and The University of Tennessee are addressing the nation’s major transportation issues

East Tennessee is now a magnet for transportation researchers and businesses that should help propel the transportation revolution. The National Transportation Research Center (NTRC) recently opened its doors in northwest Knox County. NTRC brings together under one roof some 160 researchers’120 from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and 40 from the University of Tennessee. With the researchers combining their expertise and the center’s state-of-the-art equipment, the NTRC should help solve complex national problems, make the U.S. transportation industry more competitive, and attract transportation-related firms and transportation research talent to the region.

On April 8, 1999, U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater and U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr., presided over the official groundbreaking of the $15 million NTRC facility at the intersection of Pellissippi Parkway and Hardin Valley Road. “The National Transportation Research Center is a transportation solution that will improve safety and service for the American people in the new century and the new millennium,” said Secretary Slater. “Just as we created a blueprint for an interstate highway system that tied our nation together, the NTRC will help us create a 21st century blueprint for a high-tech transportation system that saves lives, money, and time.” Calling the NTRC one of his top priorities, Duncan said that the project” will greatly enhance the ability of the U.S. transportation industry to access the research and technological capabilities” of Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The NTRC, a collaborative effort among the Department of Energy, ORNL, the University of Tennessee (UT), and The Development Corporation of Knox County (TDC), was built in less than two years on a six-acre site in the Pellissippi Corporate Center. TDC initiated the idea for building NTRC, Inc., and provided the site at a reduced price to the developer. Construction funds for the 83,000-square-foot facility came from Pellissippi Investors LLC, which will lease the facility to ORNL and UT separately. Major support for the facility comes from DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee (CROET) provided capital equipment grants totaling nearly $3 million.

Bold New Venture

“Our emphasis will be on getting technology out to the private sector as quickly as possible,” says Bob Honea, an ORNL manager named NTRC director. “The center represents a bold new venture that departs from the traditional ways in which government, industry, and the public sector have operated. For example, our transportation researchers from ORNL will no longer be behind a guarded fence, so they will be more accessible to private companies needing help with their transportation problems.

“Each collaborator brings important capabilities and assets to the facility, which we expect to attract the best talent available in transportation fields. The center and NTRC, Inc., will build upon and expand DOE’s existing partnership with other federal agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense.”

David Greene, one of the ORNL researchers who has moved to the NTRC, believes that the existence of the center and NTRC, Inc., will open up new lines of research and sources of funding beyond what DOE offers. “We may have easier access to funding from the automakers, the oil companies, the National Science Foundation, and the Pew Charitable Trust,” he says.

Researchers from industry, government, universities, and other laboratories around the country can call upon NTRC, Inc., for expertise in many different fields of transportation. NTRC researchers are determining the energy efficiency of vehicles and engines and the effectiveness of their emissions-control systems. Some are looking at ways to improve road-paving materials. Others offer advice on packaging and transporting hazardous materials and high-value products. Research is being conducted on intelligent transportation systems, defense transportation and logistics, transportation manufacturing research, composite materials for vehicles, and geographic information systems used to identify alternative transportation routes around congestion. Computer simulations of car crashes and other research methods will be used to find ways to improve vehicle safety and to evaluate the performance of new lighter-weight materials. The NTRC will also house researchers doing planning and policy analysis concerning vehicle fuel efficiency and energy use in the transportation sector.

The UT Center for Transportation Research will be conducting research at NTRC on how to make car interiors safer and how to prevent injury to body extremities in car crashes. UT researchers will also be investigating better paving materials and improved bridge beam construction. (See UT Goal: Safer Trips.) UT brings to the NTRC several nationally recognized R&D programs in transportation logistics and advanced vehicle technologies, with a base funding approaching $20 million. The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) laboratory at the NTRC, which is staffed mostly by UT researchers, is developing a map-based application that allows Tennessee Department of Transportation planners to identify roadway deficiencies and model recommended improvements to determine the costs and benefits of construction projects. The GIS group is also involved in a number of military logistics projects, such as identifying potential bridge and interchange deficiencies along convoy routes and prescribing alternate routes if necessary. (See Transportation Planners Aided by GIS Research, Defense Transportation and Logistics Research.) Specialized transportation research laboratories at NTRC and ORNL that have the best modern equipment will be available to users. DOE brings to the NTRC the scientific and technical capabilities of ORNL plus its existing funding base of nearly $80 million in transportation research and development (R&D) from multiple sponsors.

Origins of NTRC

How did the NTRC begin’ “It all began on September 10, 1993,” Honea says. “A group of movers and shakers doing transportation research at ORNL decided at an off-site meeting at the Tellico Village Yacht Club that it would really be great to get together in one building. At that time we were scattered all over the Oak Ridge Complex and rarely saw each other except at off-site meetings. But when we got together, things really clicked and we found we all had a lot in common. So I was asked to begin looking for a building to house the group. Initially, we thought about asking UT if the university would be willing to build a facility to sublease to us, but UT’s administrative management couldn’t do that.

“We had almost given up when TDC expressed interest in helping us build the facility. Then TDC officials decided that their charter only allowed them to provide land, not construct buildings. Later, we evolved the idea of including in the building some transportation research labs as user facilities for outside researchers. In that way we were able to get DOE support. We talked to several private investors and looked at many sites before we settled on the Pellissippi Parkway site. Mr. Stan Roy, Mr. Milus Skidmore, and the Malicote family, who own Dixie Roofing, Inc. (whose president is Mike Malicote), formed a partnership called Pellissippi Investors to bid on the project using private funds to construct the building. We are now beginning to enjoy a fantastic facility.”


Source: Oak Ridge National Laboratory Review