Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Marty Goolsby ()
Communications and External Relations


Duncan, Slater break ground for National Transportation Research Center

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., April 8, 1999 — U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater joined U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. here today for the official groundbreaking of the $15 million National Transportation Research Center (NTRC).

"The National Transportation Research Center is a transportation solution that will improve safety and service for the American people in the new century and the new millennium," said Secretary Slater. "Just as we created a blueprint for an Interstate highway system that tied our nation together, the NTRC will help us to create a 21st century blueprint for a high-tech transportation system that saves lives, money and time."

The NTRC, a collaborative effort between the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the University of Tennessee (UT), The Development Corporation of Knox County and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is being developed on an 11.26-acre site in the Pellissippi Corporate Center at Pellissippi Parkway and Hardin Valley Road.

"The development of this research facility has been one of my top priorities for some time," Duncan said prior to today's ceremony. "It will greatly enhance the ability of the U.S. transportation industry to access the research and technological capabilities that exist through the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

"All of the partners in this exciting venture - ORNL, UT, the Development Corporation and DOE -- deserve a tremendous amount of credit for their vision and for making this dream a reality."

Duncan praised Slater for his commitment to transportation research.

Project officials participating in today's groundbreaking ceremony noted that industry, government and other research programs around the country will be able to call upon the NTRC for expertise in vehicle and engine testing, infrastructure materials, materials packaging, intelligent transportation systems, composite materials and geographic information systems.

In January, grading and preliminary activities for the 83,000-square-foot facility, expected to open next spring, began under the auspices of Pellissippi Investors LLC.

"Our emphasis is on getting technology out to the private sector as quickly as possible," said Bob Honea, center director. "The center represents a bold new venture that departs from the traditional ways that government, industry and the public sector have operated."

"Each partner brings important capabilities and assets to the facility, which we expect to serve as a magnet institute for attracting the best talent available in transportation fields," said Steve Richardson, acting manager for DOE Oak Ridge Operations. "The center also will build upon and expand our existing partnership with other federal agencies, such as the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense."

DOE's contributions to the center include the scientific and technical capabilities of ORNL and a funding base of nearly $80 million in transportation research and development from multiple sponsors, which include the Department of Transportation, other federal agencies and industry. With a workforce of nearly 5,000, ORNL is one of DOE's largest non-defense science and technology facilities.

Al Trivelpiece, ORNL director, said, "As a multi-program laboratory, ORNL conducts transportation-related research that now spans many scientific disciplines. We are engaged in projects ranging from materials science -- for a new generation of automobile bodies -- to the development of cleaner, more efficient engines. The new center will bring much of this research activity together under one roof for the benefit of all."

UT brings several nationally recognized research and development programs in transportation logistics and advanced vehicle technologies with a funding base of nearly $20 million.

"UT faculty and researchers from business, transportation, engineering and other academic areas will contribute a broad range of knowledge and expertise to the interdisciplinary work at the center," said Joe Johnson, UT president.

"We look forward to forging new relationships and developing common research interests between UT and ORNL," Johnson said. "We are confident that the National Transportation Research Center will result in improvement in the nation's transportation systems, and UT is proud to play a vital role in that effort."

Johnson also noted that the new center will extend the university's reputation for transportation beyond regional boundaries.

"UT has been a leading transportation research center in the Southeast for years," Johnson said. "Combining our resources with DOE, ORNL and the transportation industry will result in the creation of a world-class research facility."

Honea pointed to another reason for the optimism and reason the project is off to a great start. "The key to the success of the National Transportation Research Center is The Development Corporation of Knox County," Honea said. "This partner brings the private sector to the relationship, supporting a major initiative of the project."

Melissa Ziegler, executive of The Development Corporation, noted that local government has been extremely supportive. "The Development Corporation is able to participate in this unique project because Knox County government has taken such a proactive stand on economic development," Ziegler said. "Knox County understands the role transportation plays in our local economy and has made many commitments over the years to find ways to utilize the world-class technology that our region has to offer.

"Pairing transportation and research together to attract significant private sector investment seemed like a great strategy for Knox County. The National Transportation Research Center will be a key reason that transportation-related firms elect to locate in the East Tennessee region."

The center will be staffed by ORNL, UT and industry partners. Honea believes it will earn national recognition for its ability to solve difficult technological problems in collaboration with industry and government. With the center's diverse facilities and staff, research projects will include virtually everything from engine, propulsion and power systems to intelligent vehicles and highways.

"As congestion gets worse, more cities are going to be looking at intelligent highways," Honea said. "Instead of adding more lanes to our highways, we're going to have to make our existing roads more efficient."

In another center effort, researchers in the Human Factors Engineering Laboratory will look at visualization, simulation, ergonomics and human perceptions associated with traffic and vehicle operations. This work should lead to safer cars equipped with state-of-the-art communications systems.

"We're talking about automated emergency communication systems aboard cars of tomorrow," Honea said. "Your car will be able to notify authorities of a problem. An on-board computer will assign priorities to warnings, signals and even calls coming in to your cell phone.

"And there are commercial applications as well. Those road signs may one day be replaced by announcements you can access by a receiver in your car."

Although the facility is several months from opening, the partners have begun "virtual" operations of the center. Honea and others involved with the center expect to see the $100 million in annual funding grow to $200 million in five years.

"We believe that will be possible as we respond to the need for transportation systems that are energy-efficient, cost-effective, safe and secure, and environmentally sound," Honea said.

Other core competencies of the center will be in commercial vehicle operations, infrastructure materials, power electronics/hybrids, materials modeling and simulation, military transportation operations, transportation policy analysis, and coatings and composites.