Washington State University has received a $7.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to lead a national university transportation center focused on improving the durability and extending the lifespan of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

The new center is one of just seven in the country and the only one focused on the state of repair of infrastructure.

“This award is more national recognition of our success in providing practical answers for everyday problems,” said WSU President Kirk Schulz. “It’s also an indicator of the caliber of our research in this field. We look forward to providing solutions that address the nation’s transportation challenges.”

Much of the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as the U.S. highway system, was built from the 1950s to the 1970s and is now reaching the end of the lifetime for which it was designed. Every four years since the late 1990s, the American Society of Civil Engineers has provided a report card of U.S. infrastructure that shows consistently failing grades of between D to D+. More than nine percent of approximately 600,000 bridges in the U.S. are considered structurally deficient, and one out of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition. The problem is exacerbated by population and traffic growth and an increasing number of disruptive and extreme weather events.

“Maintaining a competitive and strong national economy requires well-maintained infrastructure — instead of putting Band-Aids on every once in awhile,” said Xianming Shi, associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, who is leading the center. “The new center is long overdue and very timely, considering the pressing need of dealing with aging infrastructure. Our shared vision is to develop cost-effective innovations and holistic solutions to enhance multi-modal infrastructure durability.”

The center will provide support for research, education, workforce development, technology transfer, and industry and public partnerships as a way to catalyze interactions and innovations. Key research areas include new materials, like ultrahigh performance concrete and fiber-reinforced polymeric composites, as well as non-destructive ways of evaluating the condition of infrastructure. Researchers will also be studying asset and performance management and resilience, so that engineers and managers can make better and more cost-effective decisions around maintenance. A newly established Springer-Nature journal, Journal of Infrastructure Preservation & Resilience, for which Shi is the Editor-in-Chief, will be leveraged for outreach and information dissemination.

As the leader of the consortium, WSU will provide coordination, integration, program management, outreach, and fiscal management for the center. The consortium includes researchers from Missouri University of Science and Technology, Texas A & M University, Case Western Reserve University, University of Utah, University of Colorado, Denver, South Dakota State University, Florida Atlantic University, University of Mississippi, Alabama A & M University, and Tennessee State University.