Engineering researchers at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln will lead a team using a federal grant to improve transportation safety.
Universities from Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri will share a $14.35 million Department of Transportation grant over the next five years to promote safety; specifically with the transportation of hazardous material and infrastructure which could be harmed by flooding.
UNL Engineering and Technology Chair Laurence Rilett says one research project seeks to develop safer highway barricades to prevent disastrous tanker truck crashes.
“So that when the tanker hits them they’re less likely to flip over, to bounce back into traffic, to have a release,” Rilett tells Nebraska Radio Network. “So, given that there’s a crash, we want to mitigate the effect of that crash.”
Researchers will also study ways to prevent crashes, such as improved electronic communications between trucks, roadways, and barriers.
Rilett, who also is the director of the Nebraska Transportation Center and the Mid-America Transportation Center, says such research is becoming increasingly important, both for road and rail traffic.
The number of rail carloads of crude oil has jumped dramatically the past few years, from 10,000 carloads in 2009 to 490,000 in 2014. Researchers will study how best to prevent dangerous derailments.
More hazardous material in general is being transported throughout the country. A recent DOT study estimated truck and rail freight would increase 42% by 2040. Even though only a small percentage of that freight is considered hazardous, any jump in freight traffic equals an increase in hazardous freight on the nation’s roads and railways.
The researchers will also study the impact of flooding on infrastructure, in particular the impact on bridges.
“We’re so used to having our bridges working all the time, we’re not really paying attention to the fact that the water sometimes can scour away the bridge,” Rilett says.
Rilett says damage from flooding could become a growing problem for the country. He points out there have been 108 presidential disaster declarations issued for storms over the past 50 years, 54 issued for flooding. Researchers also will study how to improve response to flood emergencies.
Universities working with UNL on the research are the University of Iowa, the University of Kansas, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Lincoln University, and Nebraska Indian Community College. The DOT grant is for Region 7, which covers Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri. It is a matching grant. The universities will be raising the matching funds.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:45]