The history of the UTC Program begins in 1988, when the US DOT initiated the UTC Program as authorized in the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987. After a nationwide competition, US DOT awarded grants to create a UTC in each of the ten standard Federal regions. The primary purpose of the program at that time was conducting research.
The Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act (ISTEA) of 1991 reauthorized the UTC Program through Fiscal Year 1997, and expanded its mission to include education and technology transfer, as well as research. In addition to the ten Regional Centers, ISTEA created three “national” Centers and six University Research Institutes at universities that were named in the Act. The program expansion led US DOT to adopt a strategic planning approach to program management based on a mission and goal set that was the same for all 13 Centers and six Institutes. US DOT extended the grants to the Regional Centers for three years, but announced its intention to reopen the program to competition. That occurred in 1994, at which time two of the ten regions experienced a change in the host institution of the Regional Center.
In 1998, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) reauthorized the UTC Program for an additional six years and increased the total number of Centers to 33. In addition to the ten Regional Centers, which were selected competitively in 1999, TEA-21 created 23 other Centers at institutions named in the Act. TEA 21 established education as one of the primary objectives of a UTC and institutionalized the use of strategic planning in university grant management.
The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), enacted in 2005, provided the most significant expansion of the UTC program to date. SAFETEA-LU increased the number of UTCs from the 33 established in TEA-21 to 60, including the ten Regional UTCs plus a new group of ten competitive centers called Tier 1 Centers; the other 40 UTCs were located at institutions named in the Act. Annual authorized funding for the UTC program also increased from $32.5 million in TEA-21 to $85.9 million in SAFETEA-LU.
The Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2010, sec. 411(e)(3), gave the US DOT the discretion to redistribute funds allocated to specified research projects and programs designated in SAFETEA-LU. The Fiscal Year 2011 funds were made available through full and open competition following the framework of the competitive UTC programs under SAFETEA-LU sections 5506(e) and (f). Grants of approximately $3.5 million each were awarded to ten Tier 1 UTCs, two Tier 1 Transit-Focused UTCs, and ten Regional UTCs. Fiscal Year 2012 funds were added to these grants following additional extension legislation.
In 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) continued the UTC program, authorizing the competitive selection of 35 UTCs to receive a total of $72.5 million in funding for each of Fiscal Years 2013 to 2014, with continued funding from extension acts through Fiscal Year 2015. Following a competition in 2013, grants of approximately $3 million each were awarded to five National UTCs, $2.75 million each to ten Regional UTCs, and $1.5 million each to twenty Tier 1 UTCs. Fourteen of the 35 UTCs selected in the 2013 competition were new recipients of UTC Program grants.
On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (Pub. L. No. 114-94) into law making it the first federal law in over a decade to provide long-term funding for surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment. The FAST Act authorized $305 million in spending from fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for the maintenance of existing and establishment of new initiatives in research, education and workforce development, and the facilitation of technology transfer. As part of its efforts to fulfill the FAST Act federal mandate, DOT hosted a grant competition which resulted in the announcement of 32 new UTC Centers in December of 2016.
In 2018, the Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 115-141) provided for two National Centers (one focused on “Congestion Relief,” and one focused on “Improving the Durability and Extending the Life of Transportation Infrastructure”). Authorization and funding for four additional Tier 1 Centers was provided under the Further Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 (P. L. 116-94, December 20, 2019).