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WSU to research crumbling roads and bridges with $7.5 million federal grant

Motorists avoid a stretch of potholes on Freya Street near Hartson Avenue in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood on Feb. 17, 2017. Washington State University has been chosen to receive a $7.5 million federal grant for research and education programs dedicated to improving the nation’s roads and bridges. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Motorists avoid a stretch of potholes on Freya Street near Hartson Avenue in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood on Feb. 17, 2017. Washington State University has been chosen to receive a $7.5 million federal grant for research and education programs dedicated to improving the nation’s roads and bridges. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Washington State University has been chosen to receive a $7.5 million federal grant for research and education programs dedicated to improving the nation’s roads and bridges.

WSU and the University of South Florida were selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation after a competitive grant application process that saw 51 entries, according to an agency news release.

Now designated as national University Transportation Centers, WSU will focus on fixing deteriorating infrastructure, while USF will focus on relieving traffic congestion.

“Traffic jams and potholes cause daily problems for motorists, wasting their time and causing damage to vehicles,” Diana Furchtgott-Roth, the agency’s deputy assistant secretary for research and technology, said in the news release. “These universities are taking practical approaches to these problems that will result in solutions that America needs now.”

The agency says a University Transportation Center is “a consortium of two- and four-year colleges and universities that come together to form a unique center of transportation excellence on a specific research topic.”

WSU will work in collaboration with researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Texas A&M University, Case Western Reserve University, the University of Utah, the University of Colorado, South Dakota State University, Florida Atlantic University, the University of Mississippi, Alabama A&M University and Tennessee State University.

The center will be known as the National Center for Transportation Infrastructure and Life-Extension. It will be led by Xianming Shi, a WSU professor of civil and environmental engineering.

On Thursday, Shi said the consortium will focus on research as well as education, workforce development, partnerships and technology transfers. He said it will foster the kind of “high-risk, high return” projects that don’t often meet the criteria for other government grants.

“Infrastructure is a really important issue right now,” Shi said.

He cited the latest “infrastructure report card” produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gave the United States a grade of D+ in 2017. The report found that about 9% of bridges in the country are structurally deficient, and one in every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition.

“We’re definitely falling behind,” Shi said. “It has already hurt our competitiveness in terms of economy because you have so many potholes and work zones in the summer.”

U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, issued statements this week to celebrate the university’s selection for the grant.

“Whether we’re shipping freight or commuting to and from work, every Washingtonian knows the importance of durable roads and modern bridges,” Cantwell said. “Smart investments in modern infrastructure are critical to our economy, so it’s fitting Washington State University will be on the cutting edge of new national infrastructure research and innovation.”

Editor’s note: This story was changed on Tuesday, June 11, 2019, to correct the name of the transportation center.

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