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Testing new tools for 21st century transportation system planning

October 20, 2008

Dramatic changes in the ways transportation systems in the United States are planned, designed and analyzed are expected to emerge from research at Arizona State University to be funded by recent grants from the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Two grants totaling more than $1.1 million will support the work led by Ram Pendyala, a professor of transportation systems in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

About $800,000 will fund a project under the highway administration’s Exploratory Advanced Research Program to make advances in highway engineering and intermodal surface transportation planning.

With a $300,000 grant from the transportation department, a new method for analyzing transportation systems will be used to evaluate one or more of the proposed light-rail system corridors in the Phoenix area.

Both projects “are aimed at advancing state-of-the-art methods and tools for modeling complex transportation systems and evaluating alternative transportation investments in the future,” Pendyala said.

“We are excited at the prospect of developing and applying integrated microsimulation models of land use and transportation that can make a real difference in transportation planning practice,” he said. “These projects offer us the opportunity to showcase ASU’s strengths in the urban systems modeling research arena.”

The work for the highway administration involves research and development in high-risk, high-payoff projects that address technology and knowledge gaps. Pendyala’s project, “Modeling the Urban Continuum in an Integrated Framework: Location Choice, Activity-Travel Behavior, and Dynamic Traffic Patterns,” involves developing a comprehensive integrated model system capable of simulating urban systems using agent-based microsimulation approaches.

The integrated model system will incorporate models of land use, human activity and travel demand, along with traffic flow, so that transportation planning agencies can specifically consider the complex interactions between the built environment and transportation. The sophisticated modeling will help agencies ensure transportation systems remain sustainable in the future, Pendyala said.

The project team includes professor Paul Waddell of the University of Washington, Seattle, and professors Yi-Chang Chiu and Mark Hickman of the University of Arizona. Public agency partners on this project include the Maricopa Association of Governments, Pima Association of Governments, Maricopa County Department of Transportation, Arizona Department of Transportation, and the Puget Sound (Washington) Regional Council.

The second project will apply a new microsimulation model — called Transportation Analysis and Simulation System, or TRANSIMS. Developed by the Los Alamos National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Transportation, it is a model of activity-travel demand that can simulate movements of individual vehicles and travelers in a complex network.

The project will provide a unique multimodal test case for the application of TRANSIMS. Researchers will seek to use the system to simulate the impact of alternative designs for proposed extensions of the light-rail lines as part of the Valley’s new light-rail system.

Pendyala’s team on this project includes industry partners Resource Systems Group, Inc. and HDR|SR Beard & Associates Inc. Public agency partners include the Maricopa Association of Governments and Valley Metro Light Rail.

For more information about these projects, contact Ram Pendyala at [email protected] or the Federal Highway Administration project manager, Brian Gardner at [email protected]. More information about these projects is also available at [on Oct. 15].

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