From Seat Belts to Self-Driving Cars: TRC Celebrates 50 Years

Credit: Chris Alexis, Columbus Underground

Ohio’s Transportation Research Center (TRC) has been making both cars and roads safer and more efficient for more than 50 years.

In The Beginning

It all started when people realized how dangerous driving was in the 1960s and made laws to improve safety. Since then, TRC in East Liberty has been working on making cars better and testing new ideas to help transportation.

“More than half a century ago, Governor Jim Rhodes had a vision to make Ohio the focal point of automotive innovation, and our team is so proud that over the years since we helped make that vision a reality,” said TRC CEO Brett Roubinek.

Since that time, the organization has worked with more than 1,000 clients and partnered with organizations in various sectors, including government, industry, research, and education. TRC has come a long way, from testing basic things like seat belts to now testing advanced technology like self-driving cars.

Back in 1962, The Ohio State University’s College of Engineering laid the groundwork for TRC Inc., intending to spearhead transportation research that wouldn’t use public roadways.

By 1966, with support from the Ohio Department of Highways, plans were approved and land was acquired in Union and Logan Counties for a dedicated research facility.

Fast-forward to 1972: Ohio’s General Assembly officially created TRC of Ohio, and in 1974 the facility celebrated the opening of its high speed test track. In 1976, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration then planted the country’s only vehicle research test center, locating it in East Liberty (about 45 miles northwest of Columbus).


Fast forward to 2019, when TRC created the 540-acre SMARTCenter at their East Liberty campus. The facility is huge. How huge? Try two-thirds the size of New York’s Central Park.

Within those walls, employees conduct research, work on development, and test all sorts of innovations in a secure location.

People who step inside the SMARTCenter will see a six-lane high-speed intersection, a specialized test facility for autonomous and connected vehicles, and customizable traffic signals.

“The world’s most ingenious inventors are developing novel and very promising automotive technologies, but what’s missing is the validation that these innovations will work in the real world,” Roubinek said. “We provide the ideal environment for full, real-world testing of these systems to help inventors test under almost every condition, helping researchers understand where their technologies may fall short and can be improved.”

Two years after the SMARTCenter opened was the advent of TRC California, a large testing and research complex near San Francisco. It includes 225 acres of areas to test vehicles, a 2.2-mile oval track, along with an assortment of roads and intersections for testing.

The Corridor

The organization is also part of the Route 33 Smart Mobility Corridor. It spans from Dublin to East Liberty, passing through Marysville and stopping right at TRC.

TRC is a major player, partnering with the NW 33 Council of Governments, which includes Marysville, Dublin and Union County. (The NW 33 Innovation Corridor Council of Governments was created in November 2016 to oversee development along the Route 33 Smart Corridor.)

In fact, TRC markets the corridor to clients seeking to advance their testing needs.

Looking Ahead

As for the future of TRC, Roubinek revealed the team is “determined to keep pace with game-changing technologies in transportation and related industries and constantly expanding and transforming in order to stay one step ahead of ‘what’s next.’”

He also wants to update the organization’s Impact Laboratory.

“TRC has been a longtime leader in crash testing and impact simulation, but the cars of tomorrow are evolving which means we also need to evolve to meet the industry’s current needs,” he said.

TRC is ready to help improve car and road safety for the next 50 years.

“We’ve been confidentially serving all the global automotive leaders for 50 years and we know that will continue to be part of the next chapter in transportation innovation,” he said.

For more information, visit

Read the story on Columbus Underground