Our Leaders

G. Michael Fitch, Ph.D.

G. Michael Fitch, Ph.D.

Director of Research

G. Michael Fitch is the Director of Research at VTRC.

He served as a research scientist with VTRC for 23 years, primarily focused on minimizing environmental impacts of transportation through green engineering and development of sustainable maintenance practices.

He also worked as an environmental consultant in Hawaii for three years before coming to VTRC.

During his time as a VTRC research scientist, he served on several committees for the National Academies of Science, the Transportation Research Board and National Cooperative Highway Research Program panels. He received his Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Virginia.

John S. Miller, Ph.D, P.E.

John S. Miller, Ph.D, P.E.

Associate Director for Environment, Planning, and Economics

John Miller is the Associate Director for VTRC's Environment, Planning, and Economics Team.

Research activities of this team address ways to protect the environment, preserve cultural resources, support Virginia’s multimodal transportation system, and maximize the benefits of Virginia’s transportation investments. 

John remains involved with transportation planning, most recently working in the areas of regional truck freight planning techniques and scenario planning.  He serves as an adjunct professor at the University of Virginia, where he teaches courses on Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and transportation planning.  He is on the Transportation Research Board’s committee for Transportation Planning Analysis and Application (AEP15) and has served on several NCHRP/SHRP project panels. 

His Ph.D. in Civil Engineering is from the University of Virginia and he is a registered professional engineer in Virginia.  Prior to becoming Associate Director, he spent 28 years as a researcher at VTRC and during that time had the fortune to work with over 40 students on various technical assistance efforts directly supporting VDOT's research needs. 

Harikrishnan Nair, Ph.D., P.E.

Harikrishnan Nair, Ph.D., P.E.

Associate Director for Pavements

Harikrishnan (Hari) Nair is the Associate Director for VTRC's Pavement Research Team. His team conducts and implements research on innovative materials, design, construction, evaluation, maintenance and management for highway pavements and related geotechnical applications. 

Hari is actively involved with research in asphalt materials characterization and performance modeling, flexible and rigid pavement design and analysis and pavement preservation and forensic studies. He is active on a number of Transportation Research Board committees and has served on several NCHRP research panels. He currently serves as a chair of AASHTOWare Pavement ME Taskforce. 

Hari earned his PhD in Civil Engineering from North Carolina State University and is a registered professional engineer in Virginia. Prior to becoming Associate Director, he spent 11 years as a researcher at VTRC. He also worked with the VDOT Materials Division before coming to VTRC. 

Michael D. Fontaine, Ph.D., P.E.

Michael D. Fontaine, Ph.D., P.E.

Associate Director for Safety, Operations, and Traffic Engineering

Michael D. Fontaine is the Associate Director for VTRC's Safety, Operations, and Traffic Engineering team.

His team conducts research in the broad areas of highway safety, traffic engineering, operations, intelligent transportation systems, and connected and automated vehicles.

He is actively involved with research in highway safety, traffic monitoring, emerging crowdsourced data streams and intelligent transportation systems. He also serves as the chair of the Transportation Research Board committee for Urban Transportation Data and Information Systems.

Mike earned his Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Virginia, and he is a registered professional engineer in Virginia. Prior to becoming Associate Director, he spent 14 years as a researcher at VTRC. He has also worked at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Old Dominion University and the City of Charlottesville.

Hari Sripathi, P.E.

Hari Sripathi, P.E.

Director, Office of Strategic Innovation

Hari Sripathi serves as the Director of the Office of Strategic Innovation. In this role, he is actively involved in the innovation process by promoting, stewarding, and championing an innovative culture throughout the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). He oversees the development of innovative ideas from transformational technological evolutions to core innovations such as practical field and office solutions that can advance the agency. He oversees the methods and approaches that are used to inspire employees to be creative and adaptable in their work while ensuring that the agency is meeting the needs of the future. Hari has 30-years of engineering, traffic management, and technology experience. After working in the private sector for some time, he joined VDOT in 2000 and has led various programs within the agency. He has a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering and he is a Registered Professional Engineer in Virginia.  

 Soundar Balakumaran, Ph.D., P.E.

Soundar Balakumaran, Ph.D., P.E.

Associate Director for Structures

Sounder Balakumaran is the Associate Director for VTRC's Structures Team.

He earned his Ph.D. in Structural Engineering from Virginia Tech in 2012 and began his career as a research scientist at VTRC shortly thereafter. Soundar is a registered professional engineer in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

His expertise includes structural engineering, forensics, nondestructive inspection, maintenance, and preservation of bridges and tunnels.

He is also an associate editor of the American Society of Civil Engineers' Journal of Bridge Engineering.

He was selected as an Emerging Leader by the American Concrete Institute in 2019. 

Kevin B. Wright

Kevin B. Wright


Kevin Wright joined the VTRC in 2015 following 28 years working in various roles in VDOT, including roadway design, construction, maintenance, and residency administration, most recently in the Dillwyn Residency.

He supports VTRC's mission by assisting with implementation of research recommendations. Working as a liaison between field staff and research council staff, Kevin ensures VDOT receives the benefits of the important findings we produce.

He is responsible for making the use of these innovative practices and products common practice throughout the department, as well as spreading other innovative ideas arising from our work.

He holds an associate’s degree in general engineering technology from Central Virginia Community College and is working to complete his bachelor’s in business administration from Liberty University.

Donna P. Cognata

Donna P. Cognata


Donna Cognata oversees VTRC’s budget, accounts payable, accounts receivable, project management, federal awards, procurement, building security and maintenance, and information technology functions.

Donna Cognata graduated in 1989 from U.Va.’s McIntire School of Commerce with a Bachelor of Science in Commerce and a concentration in accounting.

Prior to joining VTRC in 2005 she worked two years with the Virginia Auditor of Public Accounts as an auditor and eight years with the Virginia Department of Forestry as assistant fiscal director.


Last updated: April 19, 2024

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