Team envisions future of the American road with new NSF planning grant

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LAWRENCE — Headquartered at the University of Kansas School of Engineering, a research team is envisioning what U.S. roads, highways, bridges and supporting infrastructure could look like in coming decades — a time when autonomous vehicles, more traffic and harsher weather driven by climate change could stress the American transportation system.

The work is taking place under a planning grant from the National Science Foundation and includes multidisciplinary researchers from multiple institutions. The researchers hope the one-year, $100,000 project might result in establishment of an Engineering Research Center at KU to advance basic science that will underpin next-generation transport technology.

“The focus of the planning grant is to develop a center that will be the leading basic science and enabling technology center to drive the intelligent infrastructure for safe, efficient mobility for all,” said Anil Misra, professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering, who is leading the effort. “It will be centered at KU and involves four other universities — the University of Minnesota, Purdue University, the University of California Berkeley and the City College of New York.”

In workshops, panel discussions and retreats this year, the team will assess emerging technologies that could improve U.S. roadways and infrastructure with an eye toward making them friendlier to the environment and more resilient to higher traffic volume and a spike in severe weather. Boosting safety will also be a primary focus of the work.

“A big challenge is the accident rate, the number of deaths per 1,000 people,” Misra said. “A lot of these accidents happen at intersections — this is one challenge. Intersections that are intelligent and can warn incoming drivers, or self-driving cars that can warn each other, will reduce accidents, as well as pollution and fuel usage.”

One emphasis of the team’s work will be on developing “active structures” with sensors to analyze traffic conditions and alter road conditions or communicate with …

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