By David Goll
San Jose State University and its Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) are preparing to play a prominent role in finding solutions to California’s seemingly intractable transportation problems.
The approval last year by state legislators of Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) — co-authored by state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose — designated $2 million annually for three years for CSU research and workforce development. The Chancellor’s Office held a competition to determine which campus would lead the efforts, with SJSU and MTI selected to guide the research consortium.
Karen Philbrick, PhD, executive director of MTI, founded in 1991 in the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, said SB 1 authorizes funds to conduct transportation-related research by students and faculty from throughout the CSU, and $5 million annually for the University of California. The measure raises an average of $5.2 billion annually for improvements over the next decade.
During an interview in the MTI offices, a few blocks north of campus, Philbrick said she was “thrilled” her organization won out in the CSU competition and will manage collaboration on research activities system wide. The researchers will work to devise improvements for the state’s overtaxed roadway, air and rail transportation networks.
“We are honored and delighted to be selected as the lead transportation research center and to administer funds provided to the CSU by SB 1,” she said. “MTI’s focus on providing access to equitable, affordable and sustainable surface transportation through the highest-quality research aligns well with the legislation’s vision for accountability in ensuring the best possible use of these resources.”
Transit dilemmas in California, with the world’s sixth-largest economy, are daunting. Three of the top five most-congested metropolitan areas in the nation for vehicular traffic are in the Golden State: Los Angeles-Long Beach, San Francisco-Oakland, and San Jose. Meanwhile, the state’s trailblazing effort to build the first high-speed rail system in the U.S., as well as upgrade commuter rail networks in the Bay Area and Southern California have become bogged down with legal and political challenges and cost overruns.
As a result, the hamstrung movement of goods in a state whose seaports — including the nation’s busiest of Los Angeles/Long Beach, and the fifth busiest at Oakland — handle 45 percent of the nation’s continental, containerized cargo, is often a major headache for businesses.
Sen. Beall said the SJSU/MTI collaborative organization is the logical place to lead campus and CSU-developed solutions.
“I consider San Jose State’s Mineta Transportation as California’s public-sector equivalent of the research and development departments that are so common in the private sector,” he said. “MTI has a great record of transportation research. It is eminently qualified to evaluate proposed projects for their merit and innovation. The institute’s research teams have a well-earned reputation for being thorough and forward thinking.”
With California’s transportation system the “backbone” of its economy, Beall said, “MTI’s research will be applied to help create an effective infrastructure system for an ever-increasing mobile society.”
Philbrick said CSU research efforts will focus particularly on four campuses that comprise the MTI-managed California State University Transportation Consortium — SJSU, CSU Chico, Fresno State University and CSU Long Beach, all of which operate transportation-oriented academic centers. She said SB 1 calls for emphasizing research into maintenance and rehabilitation of surface roads, congestion relief, and improvements in trade corridors and pedestrian/cyclist safety.
Philbrick said requests for proposals for research projects were issued in January, with a deadline of Feb. 26. She expressed high hopes for those proposals from all CSU campuses.
“We have wonderful (transportation research) programs throughout CSU,” she said.