UN Magazine: Take Me Home, Country Roads | New

The chorus of John Denver’s classic song is more than just an ode to nostalgia. in recent years, he has echoed the importance that rural communities place on infrastructure.

Impacting everything from grocery shopping to doctor appointments to football games, constant transportation is extremely important for everyone, especially when you don’t have daily necessities within walking distance. walking or cycling.

Since 2017, the Nebraska Department of Transportation has worked with the University of Nebraska system on numerous projects aimed at improving mobility in rural areas. This includes efforts led by a partnership between the UN Center for Public Affairs Research (CPAR) and the University of Nebraska at Kearney to develop and sustain transportation options in rural Nebraska communities so that discussions insights into improving transit systems can take place. Funding for the project was recently renewed in 2022 for another two and a half years.

“We provide effective research, data and systems to build the capacity of rural transit agencies so they can continue their community development work. We’re also bringing people together and talking about how to expand mobility options across the state,” said Josie Gatti Schafer, Ph.D., director of CPAR. “It’s really about digging into the challenges of those communities and working with the people there to respond effectively and efficiently.”

With a need for statewide transit service, the NU system is also helping these rural agencies with an online tracking system to help providers access federal funding, as well as maintain and promote a website, nebraskatransit.com, so that more people in these communities are aware of the services available.

“You don’t know what challenges and hurdles they would have to overcome to do basic things that a lot of people with a car would take for granted,” Schafer said. As the demand for transportation to access basic needs grows, UN system research and resources will continue to help serve communities.

“Knowledge is power, and the data and data systems we provide can help rural communities sustain and transform,” Schafer said. “There’s this desire to be responsive and accountable, and they need these research services to do that.”

However, the UNO’s role in improving transportation across Nebraska is not just related to public transit. Researchers are also improving the roads themselves.

Enabling efficient transportation over everything from small overpasses to large rivers, bridges are essential to transportation across the state, as is their maintenance.

“When we build bridges, the bridges are inspected every two years,” said Robin Gandhi, Ph.D., professor at the school of interdisciplinary computer science. “You get insight into the behavior of the bridge and make sure any issues are noted. As the bridge ages, it is important to track how quickly the bridge is deteriorating.

Gandhi and a team of experts from the UN and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have paid particular attention to bridges in rural communities and recently received a $5 million grant from the Department of Defense Army Corps of Engineers to conduct research that will extend the life of bridges through new monitoring technology.

In addition to being used to make comparisons, patterns found in decades of government data can also help systems created to monitor bridge behavior and health, so that awareness of weakening or failure of the bridges could occur sooner.

“It’s important to have real-time perspective and analysis of bridge health. But you know, just attach sensors to a bridge and monitor a bridge, yes it is possible,” Gandhi said. “But do we have the infrastructure or the data framework through which we can monitor and analyze the structural health of all bridges or rural bridges in an entire state, in an entire country? It certainly becomes a much bigger scalability privacy and security issue.

One problem the team hopes to overcome in real-time monitoring of this information is finding ways to avoid gaps in data availability due to poor service or poor connectivity.

“We want to make sure there is a resilient data collection platform where the data collected from the bridges can be transferred to a variety of different devices, different networks, with different bandwidths so that if one of those nodes goes down, the data is still available in other nodes,” Gandhi said.

As the team continues to collaborate on different projects surrounding this vital infrastructure, Gandhi says he hopes their work can be used to help local, state and federal agencies save time and money.

“We can prioritize bridges that are deteriorating faster and maybe wait for other bridges that don’t need as much help.”

Toya J. Bell