In 1988, US DOT initiated the UTC Program as authorized in the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987. After a nationwide competition, USDOT 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. 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 USDOT 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 6 Institutes. USDOT 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 (two of the ten Regional UTCs changed hands), 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, Public Law 109-59), 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 2011 (the Extension Act), Title 3, Section 306(c)(1)-(2), gave the USDOT the discretion to redistribute funds allocated to specified research projects and programs designated in SAFETEA-LU. The FY2011 funds were made available through full and open competition following the framework of the competitive UTC programs under SAFETEA-LU Sections 5506(e) & (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. FY 2012 funds were added to these grants following additional extension legislation.

In 2012, Congress passed new transportation legislation—The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21). MAP-21 (Section 52009, University Transportation Centers Program, amending Section 5505 of Title 49 USC) continued the UTC program, authorizing the competitive selection of a new group of UTCs to receive funding through FY 2013 and FY 2014, subject to availability of funding.