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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A $5 million federal research grant to the University of Tennessee will make highways safer, officials said Wednesday.

The five-year award to the Southeastern Transportation Center at UT-Knoxville is from the U.S. Department of Transportation. STC, a consortium of universities in eight states, has done $1.5 million in transportation research and awarded approximately 400 scholarships since 1995.

Dr. Steve Richards, who directs both STC and UT-s Transportation Center, said the grant would fund continuing research in highway safety and security. STC projects include studies on school bus safety, construction and work-zone traffic control, rail crossing safety, and transit security.

Jack Murray, director of DOT’s Office of Policy and Program Support, announced the first payment of $890,000 toward the five-year grant. “The Department of Transportation considers STC the real institutional leader in the area of transportation safety,” Murray said. “That is very important to the Department of Transportation because safety is Secretary (Rodney) Slater’s number one priority.”

In addition to UT-Knoxville, consortium members include Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, Georgia State, North Carolina State, North Carolina A&T, and the universities of Florida, Kentucky, North Carolina and South Florida.

The schools annually recruit more than 50 graduate students in transportation. An advanced institute for graduate studies is headquartered at UT.