News

USDOT research administrator visits ATREL

8/20/2010 2:24:00 PM

On Friday, August 20, Peter Appel, administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), visited the Urbana campus and the Advanced Transportation Research and Engineering Laboratory (ATREL) in Rantoul, Illinois, to get a first-hand look at the types of research and state-of-the-art facilities needed to modernize and revitalize transportation in this country.

ATREL Director Imad Al Qadi (l) and RITA Administrator Peter Appel (ctr.) are briefed by a graduate student about his high-speed rail-related project.
ATREL Director Imad Al Qadi (l) and RITA Administrator Peter Appel (ctr.) are briefed by a graduate student about his high-speed rail-related project.
A self-proclaimed “transportation buff,” Appel was trained as an economist, and in his current role, he is interested in bringing together the various transportation-related government entities to improve the country’s transportation system.

“Transportation is a way to achieve results, whether it’s moving freight or people from A to B,” Appel explained. “So it is up to us to determine the optimum way of accomplishing that.” In presentations on campus and at ATREL, Appel talked with the assembled faculty and graduate students about the critical need for workforce development as part of those plans.

“We are serious about the need to attract, recruit, orient, retain, develop, and mentor a diverse, engaged, collaborative, and high performance workforce," he added. "Our University Transportation Centers (UTC) program, which sponsors critical transportation research and education in 60 colleges and universities across the country, continues to be a key part of our national workforce development strategy—but we are planning to do much more.

"The grim reality is that up to half of the transportation workforce is set to retire over the next decade, so Secretary LaHood and I have made transportation workforce development one of the top priorities at RITA. Our national plans for high speed rail and other innovative technologies will only be successful if we cultivate the kind of highly-skilled workforce required to design, build, operate and maintain 21st Century transportation systems."

With the huge Accelerated Transportation Loading ASsembly (ATLAS) equipment in the background, Appel addressed the assembled faculty and graduate student researchers following his tour.
With the huge Accelerated Transportation Loading ASsembly (ATLAS) equipment in the background, Appel addressed the assembled faculty and graduate student researchers following his tour.
Appel toured the university’s Advanced Transportation and Research Engineering Laboratory (ATREL) near Rantoul, Illinois, which not only a national leader in finding innovative transportation solutions, but a critical academic proving ground that is educating and cultivating the type of professionals critical to successfully realizing our vision for transportation in the United States. There, he was briefed by nearly two dozen graduate students and their faculty advisors involved in cutting-edge research on pavements, railroad ties and roadbeds—especially for use on proposed high-speed rail lines—ground-penetrating radar, traffic control, and asphalt recycling.

Prior to his visit to ATREL, Appel spoke to university administrators, faculty, and students on the engineering campus. In his presentation, “America’s Transportation Research Agenda: Putting Workforce Development on Track,” he discussed the five priority areas of focus for the U.S. DOT: safety, environmental sustainability, livable communities, economic competitiveness, and infrastructure (stability and repair).

“All of the above have one thing in common,” he added. Building the workforce that will have the ability to transform itself with society’s changes.”

This wasn't Appel's first visit to Champaign-Urbana. His father, Kenneth Appel, was a noted mathematician at Illinois. A graduate of University High School, he recalled his introduction to engineering and science at the annual Engineering Open House.

Before joining the U.S. DOT, Appel served as the special assistant to the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, and as assistant director for pricing and yield management at Amtrak. In April 2009, he was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as administrator of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA). Since joining RITA, Appel has worked with Secretary Ray LaHood to advance key USDOT initiatives by leveraging effective research and cross-modal coordination. These initiatives have included the Distracted Driving Summit, which brought key transportation researchers, advocates, decision makers and other leaders together to address this growing safety issue; the bolstering of USDOT Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Program to best improve safety, efficiency, and environmental sustainability across all modes of surface transportation; and the establishment of the Department's Safety Council, which brings together all ten modal administrators to advance transportation safety across the department.
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Contact: Imad Al-Qadi, director, Illinois Center for Transportation & ATREL, 217/893-0705 x221.

Leslie Myrick, Illinois Center for Transportation & ATREL, 217/893-0705 x225.

Kim Riddle, U.S Department of Transportation, Office of Public Affairs, 202/366-5128.

If you have any questions about the College of Engineering, or other story ideas, contact Rick Kubetz, Engineering Communications Office, 217/244-7716, writer/editor.