James Madison University
PHOTO: Elise M. Barrella

Elise M. Barrella, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

  • Office: ENGE 2110
  • Phone: 540-568-7621
  • Email: barrelem@jmu.edu
  • Mailing Address:
    MSC 4113
    801 Carrier Drive
    Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807


  • Ph.D. in Civil Engineering (Transportation Systems Engineering) from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2012
  • Master of City and Regional Planning (Transportation) from Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008
  • B.S. in Civil Engineering from Bucknell University in 2006


Prior to joining the JMU Engineering faculty in 2012, Dr. Barrella was at Georgia Tech conducting research in transportation and sustainability as part of the Infrastructure Research Group (IRG). The IRG focuses on the study, development, and application of systems methods for infrastructure decision making to promote sustainable development. Specifically, Dr. Barrella took a lead role in developing the Transportation Planning for Sustainability Guidebook for the US Federal Highway Administration.  The guidebook was developed to take advantage of sustainability practices around the world and describe alternatives and opportunities for implementing such practices, pointing out potential barriers.  More specifically, this guidebook examines how sustainability considerations could be better incorporated into transportation planning.

Dr. Barrella then built upon the guidebook research to develop a self-assessment methodology that provides transportation agencies with a systematic way to incorporate sustainability into their organizational culture, planning practices, and decision-making processes. The assessment methodology is based on SWOT (i.e., Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis, which is a common practice in corporate strategic planning. SWOT Analysis’ emphasis on matching up the internal environment with the external environment is very pertinent to transportation agencies, particularly with respect to sustainability. This on-going work will help DOTs and other transportation agencies prioritize competing strategies for addressing sustainability issues in their local contexts.

In addition to research experience, Dr. Barrella has worked in transportation engineering and planning on several levels: corridors, neighborhoods, metropolitan areas, and statewide. She gained extensive experience with public outreach (visioning exercises, design workshops, stakeholder interviews, focus groups) and used cutting-edge frameworks like Health Impact Assessment (HIA), Quality Growth Assessment, and street typology to help clients explore relationships between transportation, the remaining built environment, and society. Through these experiences, Dr. Barrella recognized the difficulties in developing and planning for a community vision, particularly a sustainability vision.

Dr. Barrella’s research and publications have also led to opportunities for national service to the transportation profession. For example, she was recruited to be a member of the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Statewide Multimodal Planning Committee, and is an active friend of the Transportation and Sustainability Committee. Dr. Barrella has also been involved in planning national conferences on transportation planning, design, and sustainability. Through this service, she has the opportunity to influence research priorities at a national level which will hopefully translate into more sustainable and well-informed transportation decisions. In addition, Dr. Barrella enjoys sharing her passion for transportation engineering with students and has been involved in high school and middle school outreach activities like Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day (part of National Engineers’ Day) and Georgia Tech’s TEC summer camp. She is also part of a working group of the TRB Sustainability Committee that is focusing on sustainable transportation course development.

Specializations and Research Interests

Dr. Barrella plans to develop a research program in two primary areas of sustainable transportation: (1) community-based design and planning and (2) strategic planning and policy development. She would also like to investigate how to best integrate these research interests into classroom experiences for JMU students.