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Civil Engineering students develop award-winning public transportation concept

Engineering Building
Photo courtesy of UTEP
Liang Zhou and Brenda Bustillos pose with their Mondialogo
award at the new Engineering Building expansion
Senior Brenda Bustillos and master’s candidate Liang Zhou of UTEP’s Civil Engineering program were part of an international team recently honored with a Mondialogo Engineering Award for a project that proposes an improved public transportation system for Shanghai, China. Shanghai is China's commercial powerhouse, a city of 17 million experiencing unprecedented economic growth.

"It's such a huge city. Traffic (planning) is a priority," said Chinese native Zhou, who spent a few years in Shanghai completing his undergraduate degree at Tongji University.

As incomes rise, millions of Shanghainese are buying cars, trucks and motorcycles; and city planners are responding with plans to significantly expand highway systems.

But by rolling the dice on a car-based infrastructure, Shanghai could be setting itself up for the nightmare commutes and urban sprawl seen in big American cities like Los Angeles.

Bustillos and Zhou propose an alternative: a Bus Rapid Transit system for Shanghai.

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems use large buses in dedicated lanes closed to other vehicles to transport city residents efficiently. BRT is an attractive option for transportation planners, because it is usually significantly less expensive than constructing highways for cars or building underground metro systems.

Bustillos and Zhou's BRT concept, completed in partnership with two students from Tongji University, was recognized at the Mondialogo Engineering Awards ceremony on May 30 in Berlin, Germany.

The UTEP/Tongji team was one of just 21 university teams around the world selected for the award. The teams will each receive a share of 300,000 Euros (about $363,000 U.S. dollars) in total prize money.

The Mondialogo program, sponsored by DaimlerChrylser and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, encourages students from around the world to find solutions to quality-of-life issues in developing countries.

The UTEP students worked under the supervision of UTEP Assistant Professor of Civil Engineering Yi-Chang Chiu.

Bustillos and Zhou titled their project "Leapfrogging Urban Transportation Systems in Shanghai, China," which reflects the team's recommendation that Shanghai bypass (leapfrog) other transportation systems (such as building more highways) that are expensive and inefficient.

"Typical construction costs (for BRT) are about half that of highway system infrastructure," Chiu said.

Bustillos traveled to Berlin to represent her team at the awards ceremony. She said it was her first trip to Europe, and the Mondialogo students were given the red-carpet treatment.

"They had chauffeurs for us ... they treated us like kings and queens," said Bustillos, who soaked in the sights of historic cathedrals, the Brandenburg Gate, the Berlin Wall, and other landmarks.

Bustillos, who will earn her bachelor’s degree in May 2006, said she is happy to have participated in this kind of transportation-planning research as an undergraduate.

"We (undergraduates) get many opportunities here at UTEP," Bustillos said. "I've learned a lot and have really grown as a student."

For more information:

For more about Bustillos and Zhou’s winning project, visit and click on the "Transportation and mobility" link.

– David Peregrino

– photo by J.R. Hernandez

Horizons Online News. Citing Internet Resources. [Online], Jul 13, 2005.