September 2000

Transportation researchers packing for new NTRC

The paint is dry and the carpet is down at the new National Transportation Research Center, which will be home to a number of ORNL transportation research projects and groups. One thing’s for sure: This isn’t your typical plain-brown-wrapper government research facility.

The NTRC is nearly 85,000 square feet of a researcher’s paradise that includes high-bay areas, numerous labs and about 150 offices that will house ORNL and University of Tennessee researchers involved in aspects of transportation from policymaking to packaging.
The new National Transportation Research Center represents prime R&D real estate on the Technology Corridor.
NTRC Director Bob Honea, who has nursed the center through its conceptual and construction phases, says the new center is the culmination of an idea that arose a scant seven years ago.

“The NTRC was born on Sept. 10, 1993, at three o’clock in the afternoon, at a transportation off-site on Tellico Lake,” Bob recalls.

“Amazing ideas come up when the right group of people get together. A lot of other people told me it would never get done.”

It is done, however, and the way it’s been accomplished is pretty close to the “creative” plans for upgrading aging facilities at ORNL.

“The NTRC has been built with private developer funding. ORNL and UT are leasing this space,” Bob says. “There are no federal funds involved.”

“We plowed new ground on everything,” he says. “I could not have done it without the help of, first, Ralph McGill, and more recently, Keith Kahl. They helped me keep the vision alive.”

The NTRC will be home to a number of groups currently working at ORNL. A large section of tenants will be from Engineering Technology Division projects currently housed at Y-12, including McGill’s and Kahl’s. Other researchers will come from the Energy, Chemical Technology and Computational Physics and Mathematics divisions at ORNL. They’ll join UT researchers working on transportation-related projects.

The facilities have been “built to the future,” Bob says, “overwired” for fiber optics, which he says greatly pleased a group of computational researchers who were moving in.

Jeff Muhs, an Engineering Technology Division researcher currently housed at Y-12 but bound for the NTRC, says the new facility is likely to boost his fiber-optic technology based projects, such as ORNL’s weigh-in-motion scales.

The NTRC includes labs, offices and a large conference area (left). Below, Sonya Brooks, the building contractor's project coordinator, peers over the lobby's banister

NTRC labs and capabilities
• Composites lab
• Infrastructure materials testing lab
• Human factors lab
• Geographic information systems lab
• Materials packaging lab
• Transportation policy analysis lab
• Vehicle/engine test lab
• Commercial vehicle operations lab
• Intelligent transportation systems/traffic control lab
• Military transportation vehicle simulation lab
• Power electronics lab
• Materials modeling and characterization lab

“We expect to have heightened visibility and exposure by being able to bring sponsors in more easily to show them our work,” he says. “We expect to enjoy enhanced teaming opportunities with other divisions who come here. We’re also looking forward to having more proximity to test equipment located at the Knox County Weigh Station and McGhee Tyson Air Base.”

Other tenants will be performing research on intelligent vehicle systems, power electronics, composite materials, aviation and air traffic safety, emission controls, crash modeling and driving simulation— in other words, just about every area a research that has to do with moving from one place to another.

Facilities include brand new laboratory space, a pad for drop tests, commercial truck scales, several two-wheel dynamometers and possibly a rare four-wheel dynamometer, which Bob says may be the only one in the Southeast. The facility is large enough to accommodate big trucks. “Truck safety and operation is going to be a big part of this facility,” says Bob.

The NTRC, in fact, could become a magnet for transportation industries as word gets out about the quality and availability of the facilities, including its 8,000 square feet of lab space. Bob says several companies that move hazardous materials are already interested in the packaging research facilities, a spin off Oak Ridge’s expertise in packaging nuclear materials.

The NTRC’s activities, however, will span the whole range of transportation research. It’s not hard to imagine that, in the future, the drivers that go whizzing down the Pellissippi Parkway toward Oak Ridge will be able to credit the big facility on the right for how efficiently and safely they are getting from that one place to another.—B.C.