ECU professors part of state's University Transportation Center of Excellence

Two East Carolina University professors are helping the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) prepare for the future as part of the University Transportation Center of Excellence.

Dr. Amin Akhnoukh

Dr. Amin K. Akhnoukh, associate professor in the Department of Construction Management, and Dr. Gregory Howard, associate professor in the Department of Economics, are part of the three-year, $1 million effort. According to the NCDOT, the center will support the development of sustainable and resilient transportation infrastructure systems that are vital to ensure reliable and long-term mobility for the state.

“The center will assist NCDOT in their efforts to detect potential causes of deterioration or factors that might lead to infrastructure projects being prone to deterioration due to any external factors,” Akhnoukh said. “In addition, potential measures for mitigation will be determined. State of the art technology will be implemented to improve mobility and enhance the safety of transportation within the state.”

Akhnoukh will serve as the associate director of the center, which will be led by the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at N.C. State University. It includes a consortium of professors and researchers from Fayetteville State University, N.C. State and ECU.

“The team brings multiple areas of disciplinary expertise spread across nine departments and research centers,” Akhnoukh said. “The consortium will also engage undergraduate and graduate students across the three universities, generating positive student workforce development and preparing North Carolina’s next generation of transportation professionals.”

Beyond his role as associate director, Akhnoukh will also serve as ECU’s principal investigator for one of the center’s three themed projects that involves the creation of a guide for rehabilitation and repair of infrastructure assets. He said the goal is to provide a clear understanding of hazards to infrastructure such as bridges, culverts and pavement, and develop a ranking system that will quantify the robustness, reparability and operational readiness of the assets. A guideline will offer a step-by-step process to help NCDOT engineers in making decisions that are focused on the future, rather than simply on current maintenance.

Dr. Gregory Howard

In his role, Howard is focused on ensuring that the agent-based models used as part of the center’s research have proper parameters to provide accurate results.

“My role is to design surveys and analyze survey data that will help our team parameterize the agents in our model to accurately reflect the preferences and decision rules of the people of North Carolina,” he said.

Howard said he looks forward to working with researchers on a project that has implications across the state.

“This center will use cutting-edge research to help us understand how we interact with our transportation systems,” Howard said. “The findings from this center can guide policymakers to build a transportation system that works better for the people of North Carolina. A better transportation system can help us all thrive in good times and avoid disaster in bad.”

According to the NCDOT, the center’s themed projects are designed to address disruptions in the transportation system stemming from natural hazards, everyday disruptions and other unexpected large-scale disruptions. The center’s other themed research includes electric vehicle resilience and resilient cybersecurity.

Akhnoukh said preliminary meetings have taken place, and work on the projects should start at the beginning of 2024.