Cadets Train to Design Roads of the Future
VMI’s transportation planning and design course is preparing cadets for the challenge of updating America’s transportation infrastructure in a way that is efficient, innovative, and safe.
Cadets are using top-of-the-line software in combination with fieldwork get the most out of the course.
“I have learned that transportation engineering is a lot more complex than what I anticipated based on my initial interest,” said Cadet Christian Richardson ’13. “This subject matter will be very important in the near future, as America's aging infrastructure requires updates and new designs to support the population and increased traffic volumes.”
Members of the class are also learning that flawed transportation design can put drivers in danger.
“People’s lives are on the line with your designs,” said Nicholas Gore ’13. “This is why our professors in the civil engineering department hand out so much homework and grade our work harshly. They are preparing us for the real world where major mistakes can end up in court.”
Their instructor, assistant professor of civil engineering Maj. Wakeel Idewu, is taking his students outside of the classroom to study real-world scenarios.
“I’m trying to incorporate real-life things into the class: either by bringing the class to the field or bring the field to the class,” said Idewu. “I try to pick projects that are in progress or are being planned by the city, and I pose that as a project for them to work out.”
“It is a great way to tie everything together,” said Gore. “He likes to get us out of the classroom and give us the opportunity to really apply the information we have learned in class and through this experience you realize how important transportation design has become.”
Idewu is finding ways to challenge his students, basing his assignments on local traffic patterns.
“We have used a lot of real-world examples in class,” said Gore. “My personal favorite is when our class redesigned an intersection that used a bridge in Lexington, but we had to eliminate the bridge and place a vertical sag curve instead. It took all of our knowledge up to that point to tackle this question. It was both challenging and very rewarding when my team accomplished the task.”
Cadets in the class are using VISSIM, a professional traffic simulation program, which allows users to predict how traffic will flow through a given route.
“The idea is to train cadets to use this, and then they can use all the fundamentals they’ve learned in class up to that point to re-design an intersection,” said Idewu.
VISSIM is microscopic transportation simulation software, meaning that it has the ability to predict the actions of drivers and pedestrians on an individual basis. The software is being used by many transportation consulting firms, so familiarity with this software will be valuable when cadets in the course start looking for a job.
“Not many people know how to use this software, so being trained on it and using it in class gives them an advantage over other graduates that are looking to move towards the transportation field,” said Idewu.
–John Robertson IV