Roads, freeways, bridges and rail lines don’t just happen. Even the most humble pieces of transportation infrastructure involve months of planning and design.
Underlying that planning and design work is an enormous body of research. And Cal Poly Pomona, which already has top-notch civil engineering and urban and regional planning programs, is poised to become a new hub of transportation research in Southern California.
That is if Civil Engineering Professor Xudong Jia has his way.
The campus is a member of the University of California Center on Economic Competitiveness in Transportation, a consortium of five UC campuses and Cal Poly Pomona. The consortium, managed by UC Berkeley, receives about $3.5 million a year from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is disbursed to the member campuses.
“We put ourselves in a tough, competitive environment,” Jia says.
But Jia has his sights set even higher. Each year, Cal Poly Pomona gets about $100,000 from the consortium for professional development, transportation research and student scholarships. He wants the university to get a bigger slice of the pie, but to do that he will have to create a university transportation center (UTC) on campus.
“It’s a kind of leverage,” Jia says. “Each one of the UCs has its own center. Only we don’t.”
A UTC would need to have formal research and training programs; provide scholarships to students with an interest in transportation, especially those from underrepresented groups; and have a pathway for students interested in seeking a Ph.D.
“A UTC gives us a lot of freedom to look at the future,” he says.
Cal Poly Pomona’s “uniqueness” makes it well suited to tackle an initiative like this, Jia says. A seven-year contract with Caltrans already has students working on traffic engineering projects for the state.
“They ask a consultant to come up with a plan and they ask our students to come up with a plan,” Jia says.
“We’re cheap labor,” he says with a laugh.
Recently, Jia’s students were asked by Caltrans to redesign a pair of interchanges for the 15 Freeway in Lake Elsinore. The plans they drew up with are so well done that Caltrans officials opted to use them as the actual basis for the project.
“The students will learn from real-life projects,” Jia says.