Auburn University taps Rilett to lead Transportation Research Institute

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Laurence Rilett, one of the nation’s foremost transportation thought leaders, has been tapped to lead Auburn University’s newly established Transportation Research Institute.

Rilett previously served as a distinguished professor of civil engineering and the Keith W. Klaasmeyer Chair in Engineering and Technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as well as the director of the Mid-America Transportation Center and the Nebraska Transportation Center.

The newly established Auburn University Transportation Research Institute, hosted and supported within Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, will provide greater visibility and a shared identity for all transportation-related research and educational programs at the university. It will foster continued growth and expansion of Auburn’s rich history of excellence in transportation research, ranging from advanced roadway design, aviation systems, next-generation vehicles and transportation-related logistics. It will also help elevate these programs to a position of greater national prominence based on the scholarship generated by its participating faculty.

Thanks to the reputation of the units under the institute’s umbrella—the National Center for Asphalt Technology and its affiliated asphalt test track, the Highway Research Center, the Alabama Transportation Assistance Program and the GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Laboratory—extramural funding for transportation is greater than any other single area within Auburn University’s research footprint, and totaled more than $24 million in fiscal year 2020.

“Our nation faces a grand challenge in the design and implementation of the next-generation transportation infrastructure. While Auburn engineers are already well known for their contributions to our nation’s transportation systems and infrastructure, Dr. Rilett will help us lead an institute that will heighten our stature as a powerful force in transportation research and education, while also strengthening our ability to address this critical national challenge,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of engineering.

Steve Taylor, associate dean for engineering research, agrees.

“Simply put, bringing Larry on board as the Transportation Research Institute director is our next step forward on the national stage of transportation research and education,” Taylor said. “His résumé in the area of transportation systems analysis and modeling is truly second-to-none, and his record of leading major transportation centers is invaluable.”

Rilett, who will also hold the Ginn Distinguished Professorship in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, has been a principal investigator or co-principal investigator on more than 40 research projects pertaining to intelligent transportation systems applications and large-scale transportation system modeling. He has authored or co-authored more than 250 journal articles, conference papers and technical reports. He is also the incoming president of the Council of University Transportation Centers.

In 2002, he received the Texas Transportation Institute TTI/Trinity Researcher Award and was awarded the UNL College of Engineering Research Award in 2007 and 2017. The American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, awarded Rilett the 2019 Arthur M. Wellington Prize for Best Transportation-Related Paper in an ASCE journal and the 2021 Frank M. Masters Transportation Engineering Award for “contributions to innovative research on transportation systems and collaborative leadership to develop a diverse workforce in transportation engineering.” Rilett is the managing editor of the ASCE Journal of Transportation Engineering and on the editorial board of the Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems: Technology, Planning and Operations.

“What is truly exciting about leading this institute is the opportunity to work with the excellent faculty, staff and students who have put Auburn University on the map in terms of innovative transportation research, education and technology transfer initiatives,” Rilett said. “I am a big believer in multi-disciplinary research, and bringing all of Auburn University’s transportation-related research teams under one roof will position us to solve the complex challenges facing our nation’s multimodal transportation system and to educate the next generation of transportation professionals.”

Rilett holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the University of Waterloo and a doctoral degree from Queen’s University. In addition to his distinguished career in the University of Nebraska system, he has held professorships at the University of Alberta and Texas A&M University. He is a registered professional engineer in Texas.

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