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VTRC History

 VTRC history continued from page 1

In 1986, the Research Council’s Technology Transfer Center was established, funded by the federal Rural Technical Assistance Program and the Highway Department, part of a national network of technology transfer centers, which provide information and support services to all transportation agencies in the host state.

  • 1987 - The Virginia Transportation Research Council

The Highway Department and the Council again got new names in 1987 – the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Virginia Transportation Research Council (VTRC).

  • 1990's - An Innovative Decade

The Council continued its innovative path during the 1990s. It had reached a pinnacle in national stature that continues today because of its business model and the quality of researchers it attracted to its staff. 

  The Smart Travel Lab

The Smart Travel Lab

The Council established an asphalt binder lab and took a leading role among states in implementing SuperPAVE, a new mix design and analysis system, resulting from $50 million in research as part of the federal Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP).

The Council collaborated with the University of Virginia in establishing U.Va.'s Smart Travel Lab in the engineering school’s Center for Transportation Studies (CTS), which is jointly staffed by U.Va. and the council.

The state-of-the-art laboratory, tied directly to VDOT’s major transportation operations centers, focuses on real-time and archived data and information to support VDOT’s operations. It also allows U.Va. students to use the authentic data to model traffic scenarios and other operations projects.

Beginning in the late ‘90s, the Council started its close involvement in developing and administering programs at Virginia’s Smart Road, a 2.2-mile closed test-bed research facility near Blacksburg. VDOT owns the Smart Road, and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute manages the asset for the commonwealth

  • 2000-2010

This decade saw the Council push for results to provide a longer service life for Virginia’s roads and bridges and other cost-effective recommendations for VDOT to implement.

Materials research in high-performance concrete during this period included using supplementary cementitious materials – such as pozzolans and slag – developing and implementing self-consolidating concretes, developing lightweight concrete mixtures for bridges and improving VDOT specifications to ensure construction quality and durability. 

The Council also worked extensively on efforts to prevent and mitigate corrosion, including the performance of epoxy-coated reinforcement and alternative reinforcing materials for reinforced concrete structures. It also studied the use of corrosion inhibitors in reinforced concrete, active corrosion protection systems, such as cathodic protection, and electrochemical chloride extraction.

Significant structures research included overlays for bridge decks included thin polymer concrete overlays, latex-modified concrete, silica fume, high early-strength latex-modified concrete and other rigid concrete-overlay systems. 

Studies of innovative structural systems for bridges included aluminum bridge decks, fiber-reinforced polymer girders and deck systems, improved details for precast-prestressed concrete girders and deck systems, design and performance of integral abutments and jointless structures.

The Council also examined various innovative and cost-effective paving technologies.  Precast technology to repair concrete pavement – precast concrete pavement and pre-stressed-has been effective in expediting construction and reducing traffic delays. 

Council-led research demonstrated superior service life from stone matrix asphalt (SMA) and provided economic justification for its continued and expanded use. VDOT has worked aggressively to deploy SMA for high-volume roads. 

Beginning in the mid-2000s, studies indicated that warm-mix asphalt (WMA) should perform similarly to hot-mix asphalt (HMA).  Benefits of using WMA can include improved performance properties and environmental impacts, because the material is produced at cooler temperatures than hot mixes, and VDOT has become a leader in using WMA, based on these research results.

Council researchers also studied the application of ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to assist VDOT with determining the thickness of pavements, location of subsurface anomalies and measurement of concrete cover depth over reinforcement. GPR is a nondestructive evaluation tool that can be used to assess the internal condition of a pavement or concrete structure without causing further damage.

During this period, the VDOT Research Library, housed in the Shelburne Building, became the nation’s largest state transportation library, as reflected in total Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) holdings.

It was the first library to digitize its research holdings from 1970 to the present (more than 2,000 reports). The VDOT Research Library currently has more than 33,000 titles and 45,000 items. Its interlibrary transactions have a global reach.

In 2008, the Council became a primary partner in the Federal Highway Administration’s Long-Term Bridge Performance Program, a five-year, $25 million national-scale research program focusing on the nation’s bridge inventory, with the goal of gaining quantitative data and analysis to better maintain bridge structures. The Council was placed in charge of the eastern part of the United States for the project, to instrument, manage and maintain the pilot bridges in that region.

As was the case throughout the Council’s history, contacts and cooperation with other research organizations and agencies remained a major part of its work, with staff continuing to serve on various committees of organizations such as the Transportation Research Board (TRB), the American Concrete Institute, American Society for Testing and Materials, Association of Asphalt Paving Technologists and the Institute of Transportation Engineers. There continued to be to be extensive involvement in the National Cooperative Highway Research Program and the Strategic Highway Research Program, plus numerous organizational memberships.

  • 2010 - Present – A New Name .... and an Old Name

In 2010, VDOT’s research program was re-named the Virginia Center for Transportation Innovation and Research (VCTIR). Subsequently, in 2015,  the VDOT Commissioner made the decision to revert the organization's name to the Virginia Transportation Research Council in response to popular demand from within VDOT's ranks and our research partners.

Whatever its name, the Council remains at the forefront of supporting a culture of innovation to save VDOT money, time and materials as it  faces the many challenges ahead in maintaining and rehabilitating the roads under its stewardship. This includes studying the performance of various types of in-place pavement recycling techniques (in which an existing pavement structure is completely recycled and reused during pavement rehabilitation). These processes include full-depth reclamation, cold in-place recycling and cold central-plant recycling. Council scientists also continue to conduct numerous studies and gather significant amounts of data that will support VDOT”s future implementation of the Mechanistic-Empirical Pavement Design Guide (MEPDG), a nationwide method for pavement design that uses material properties, traffic data and climatic information to evaluate designs to improve their reliability and efficiency. 

For more than 60 years, and under various names, VDOT’s research program has played a leading role in innovation for transportation in the Commonwealth of Virginia and the country. As the transportation profession and VDOT’s responsibilities have become more complex, the VDOT research program continues to play a key role in applying the most advanced technology to transportation.

Research Directors through the years:

  • Tilton E. Shelburne, 1944-1968
  • Jack H. Dillard, 1968-1980
  • Howard H. Newlon Jr., 1981-1989
  • Gary R. Allen, Ph.D., 1989-2006 (named VDOT Chief of Technology, Research and Innovation)
  • Michael A. Perfater, 2006-2011 (acting)
  • Jose P. Gomez, Ph.D., P.E., 2011-2016
  • Catherine C. McGhee, P.E., 2016 - present