Professor Wen-Whai Li, Ph.D., of The University of Texas at El Paso’s College of Engineering and colleagues recently were awarded four grants by three funding agencies to study the effects of transportation emissions on air quality and public health.
UTEP will receive up to $3.8 million in the next five years from the U.S. Department of Transportation ($2.5 million from the U.S. DOT and $1.3 million in matching funds from UTEP and other entities) as a consortium university in two University Transportation Center (UTC) grants.
UTEP will receive another $200,000 in the next two years from the Texas Department of Transportation and El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization for the other two projects.
“We are excited to have the opportunity to work with a group of well recognized universities in this nationwide, multi-university effort to preserve the air environment of the U.S.,” Li said. “We are particularly delighted that we are able to apply the research to help improve the air quality and public health in our community.”
The U.S. DOT awarded a total of $300.3 million for five years to 32 UTCs to advance research and education programs that address six critical transportation challenges. UTEP is included in two of the three UTCs selected for grants in the category of preserving the environment.
In one project, UTEP will team up with Texas A&M University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Riverside to form a research center, called CAR-TEEH (Center for Advancing Research in Transportation Emissions, Energy and Health).
The consortium universities will address some of the U.S. DOT’s Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act research priorities, such as use of alternative fuels and energy technologies, reduction of transportation system greenhouse gas emissions, environmentally responsible planning, and impacts of freight movement. CAR-TEEH will not only serve transportation research, education and technology transfer, but also promote interdisciplinary collaboration and communication.
As a contributing member of the center, an interdisciplinary UTEP team led by Li, along with co-principal investigators Leah Whigham, Ph.D. director of the Institute for Healthy Living; Professor Joan Staniswalis, Ph.D., professor of mathematics; and William Hargrove, Ph.D., director of the Center for Environmental Resource Management, will address two important public health issues that are critical to the region: healthy living and traffic-related air pollution in an underserved community, and emissions impacts resulting from border crossings.
UTEP also is a consortium member in another UTC called CTECH (Center for Transportation, Environment and Community Health), which will be led by Cornell University to address the same FAST Act priorities with different focuses. The University of California, Davis and the University of South Florida are the other two consortium universities in CTECH.
UTEP Professor Kevin Cheu, Ph.D., will lead a UTEP civil engineering team that includes Li and Professor Carlos Chang-Albitres, Ph.D., to develop a metric to evaluate the impact of transportation on community health, perform life cycle cost analysis of electric vehicles and networked transportation systems incorporating community health considerations, conduct cost and health impact assessments of recycling onsite contaminated soil at transportation construction sites, and characterize traffic-related air pollution and children’s respiratory health in underserved communities.
Minimizing Health Impacts to Near-Road Residents
For the third project, Li will collaborate with the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) of Texas A&M University to perform a comprehensive model evaluation with real-world data to establish best practices and technical guidelines on model selection and appropriate use of the dispersion models in minimizing air quality and health impacts to near-road residents.
This project will be funded by the Texas Department of Transportation. Mayra Chavez, a Ph.D. research assistant, will work closely with Li and TTI researchers in the project.
Strategies for Ozone Reductions in El Paso
In the fourth project, Li will work with the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency to keep the air clean in the Paso del Norte region.
UTEP will analyze control strategies that may be locally and voluntarily implemented to achieve ozone reductions in El Paso. Perla Torres, a Ph.D. candidate in environmental science and engineering, will lead the investigation and develop the framework for implementation.