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Guest on The Infra Blog: Dr. Camille Kamga, Director, University Transportation Research Center, City University of New York

Posted by Steve Anderson on Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Dr. Camille Kamga, UTRCDr. Camille Kamga is Director of the University Transportation Research Center at the City University of New York. In that role he works closely with federal, regional and state transportation planning and policy organizations. He has more than twelve years of experience working on transportation related projects at UTRC. He has been involved in research projects for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the New York State Department of Transportation, the New York City Department of Transportation, and Transit agencies. He holds a Certificate in Database Management from New York University since 2000. Dr. Kamga’s research interests include: Intelligent Transportation Systems, Traffic Incident Management Transportation Operations, Management and Organizations, Transportation Policy and Planning, Transportation Safety, and Urban Sustainability. 

What is the UTRC?

The University Transportation Research Center functions as a consortium of 90 academic institutions. We represent region 2: New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and we do research in transportation. We do education, we do training, we do conferences, we do seminars and workshops. It’s clearly an academic-based research organization, and we work with both faculty and students.  We’re training the future and current professionals who are addressing our transportation systems on a daily basis. 

The UTRC recently received over $25 million in grants from the U.S. DOT and New York State Agencies.  How will this money be spent?

The University Transportation Center, UTRC, is among the ten original regional University Transportation Centers established in 1987. Actually, we are among the three remaining to be designated as a regional UTC by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The other centers are at MIT and the University of California at Berkeley. To continue to be designated as a regional center, we have to go through a competition that is administered by USDOT and RITA. This money is to support transportation research, education and training in the transportation field. That’s the purpose of the fund. The big issue that we’re focusing on for this grant is going to be economic competitiveness. We also have to support the strategic goals of the New York State Department of Transportation, but our main focus for this grant will be on economic competitiveness, making sure to strengthen our economy. 

What is the overall state of infrastructure in this country?

As you know, we’re running into some difficult challenges. Compared to other countries internationally, especially if you look at China, there’s a lot of investment in their infrastructure. In the U.S. we did that fifty years ago, and now it seems like people really don’t remember how important infrastructure is to the economy. This other challenge is that people talk about education, they talk about healthcare, and infrastructure tends to be left on the side. So that’s a big challenge.

Also, our infrastructure is aging; it’s deteriorating. Especially when you look at transportation: the financing mechanism to make new infrastructure and maintain this one is not there. We’re still collecting a gas tax that has not been effective for many years and does not really support the needs of today. We’re lagging behind, and it’s affecting our economy and affecting our competitiveness.

We need state-of-the-art infrastructure in order to compete internationally with other countries, especially being in New York. New York is at the core of the region; we have a complex network that integrates all the modes, and we move a great number of people, we move a lot of freight, so we have to recognize that we need the infrastructure to really sustain our economy. In order to support New York City, we have to maintain those existing infrastructures so we can compete.

Why aren’t citizens more involved with infra decisions?

Usually people are taking infrastructure for granted; we don’t really understand that infrastructure is going to age and deteriorate. Maintenance, usually, is a second thought. Infrastructure also has to compete with other needs–like health care, education and security–for funding.

We really need to revamp our funding allocation process and develop outreach plans to engage more people. We must take advantage of new technological tools to engage the younger generation and start talking about infrastructure at a younger age, in primary school, so people understand that infrastructure has a lifespan like any other organism. It has to live, it has to deteriorate, and if you don’t maintain it it’s going to die.

Politically it’s a challenge, especially with the funding mechanism. That’s a big issue, with the gas tax. We’re not collecting enough funds; we’re not paying for the use the infrastructure that’s out there, so that’s a big challenge. It’s really a political challenge, and it seems like no one wants to talk about it. For now maybe it’s accepted, but in the long term we’re going to pay the price for this disinvestment in our infrastructure.

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