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CONTACT: Ann Overton
                     Virginia Transportation Research Council
                     (434) 293-1912
November 8, 2007



CHARLOTTESVILLE –  Five current or recent Virginia graduate students received awards for Best Student Paper at the 56th annual Virginia Transportation Conference, held this year in Roanoke. They are:

  • Elizabeth Abel, University of Virginia
  • Matthew Best, University of Virginia
  • Chen Chen, Virginia Tech
  • Matthew Hardy, George Mason University
  • Pengfei Li, Virginia Tech

The annual conference is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), the Virginia Department of Rail & Public Transportation, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, the Virginia Port Authority, the Virginia Department of Aviation and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

This is the fourth year the Virginia Transportation Conference has conducted its student paper contest. Winners in each category received a $1,000 cash prize as well as complimentary attendance to the conference. They also each presented their winning papers during the three-day meeting.

“This new generation of transportation professionals is conducting research today that will help solve tomorrow’s driver mobility and highway safety challenges,” said Gary Allen, VDOT’s chief of technology, research & innovation and conference director. “Their universities are also key partners as the Commonwealth addresses sustainable multi-modal alternatives for public and freight transport to ensure our economy remains robust.”

Twenty-five papers were submitted this year in five transportation categories: applied technology, mobility, policy, safety, and structures and maintenance. VDOT sponsors the student paper competition, and scientists at the Virginia Transportation Research Council, VDOT’s research division, review and rank the papers. Corporate sponsors for this year’s competition were Transurban, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin Inc. and Wilbur Smith Associates.

David S. Ekern, P.E., Commonwealth Transportation Commissioner, presented the awards on November 8th at the conference.

Matthew Best receiving award from Commissioner EckernApplied technology – Paper: “Evaluation of transition methods of the 170E and 2070 ATC traffic controllers after emergency-vehicle pre-emption.” When emergency vehicles pre-empt regular traffic-signal operations, this disruption can negatively affect travel times throughout the coordinated network. Matthew Best’s research compared how effective certain algorithms, or formulas, were in controlling the effects of these interruptions and the subsequent resumption of standard signaling to restore normal traffic flows. Best received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from the University of Virginia in 2005 and 2007 and is an associate at HDR|WHM Transportation Engineering in Austin, Texas.

PengFei Li receiving award from Commissioner EckernMobility
– Paper: “Initial bias influence on traffic simulation and elimination study.” In this project, Pengfei Li developed a method to determine the time required for traffic to reach equilibrium in a simulation model. He based his prediction models on Columbia Pike in Northern Virginia and portions of Interstate 81 for this research. Li is pursuing his doctorate at Virginia Tech, where he is designing state-of-the-art dilemma-zone protection systems for signalized intersections. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in transportation from Beijing Jiao-tong University in China and also worked at PBET (China), a Parsons Brinckerhoff company.

Mathew Hardy receiving award from Commissioner EckernPolicy
– Paper: “A case study in addressing the 2005 BRAC recommendations: Implementing bus rapid transit in the Route 1 Corridor.” Matthew Hardy’s research looked at how Fairfax County could reduce the impact of the federal 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission’s recommendations by using bus rapid transit since the corridor currently cannot handle the predicted influx of 21,000 people. He determined that bus rapid transit could provide a high-quality service with lower costs. Hardy is a doctoral student at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy and also a lead transportation engineer at Noblis, based in Falls Church, VA. He also received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from GMU.

Elizabeth Abel receiving award from Commissioner EckernSafety
– Paper: “Evaluation of crash rates and causal factors for high-risk locations on rural and urban two-lane highways in Virginia.” Elizabeth Abel also won a student paper award in this category in 2005 for her project on the effects of red-light cameras on intersection safety. Her new research analyzed the main variables that most influence the causes of crashes on various two-lane roads throughout the Commonwealth. It also illustrated the effectiveness of “fault-tree” software – employing a crash database to calculate the probabilities of collision factors – as an analytical tool in safety research. Abel received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering in 2005 and 2007 from the University of Virginia, where she worked at the Virginia Transportation Research Council. She earned her Engineer In Training designation this summer and is a traffic engineer at Vanasse Hangen Brustlin in Richmond.

Structures and maintenance
– Paper: “Fuzzy-logic pavement-rehabilitation triggering approach for probabilistic life-cycle cost analysis.” Chen Chen’s research proposed a “fuzzy logic,” or multiple-factor, method to determine the timing for maintaining, rehabilitating and reconstructing roadway pavements, used to evaluate the life-cycle costs of this work. The “fuzzy-logic” model effectively accounts for some of the unknowns typically found in pavement analysis, and it produced results comparable to standard methods for choosing when to conduct these repairs. Chen received his doctorate from Virginia Tech this year; his other degrees are from South China University of Technology in Guangzhou in 2002 and Tsinghua University in Beijing in 1999. In October, he joined the Asian Development Bank as an infrastructure engineer, based in the Philippines; he previously was a pavement engineer in VDOT’s Asset Management Division.

The Virginia Transportation Research Council is a partnership of VDOT and the University of Virginia since 1948. More information is available at