CTS was created in 1987 to address the need for closer cooperation between University faculty and state and federal departments of transportation, and to strengthen the University's role in transportation research and education. Originally a part of the Institute of Technology, CTS is now an independent University center reporting to the Office of the Vice President for Research. The Center's work is in keeping with the University of Minnesota's land-grant mission—research and discovery; teaching and learning; and outreach and public service.

Today, CTS is a nationally prominent center that attracted more than $15 million in FY16 for research, education, and outreach programs. The Center works with more than 150 faculty and research staff from more than 30 departments–a spectrum of disciplines including engineering, planning, economics, public policy, computer science, human factors, and environmental studies. Funding sources include numerous federal, state, local, and private-sector sponsors.

Throughout its history, the Center has served as a resource and facilitator, helping talented University researchers develop new knowledge about transportation and then helping share that knowledge with professionals and policymakers. Ultimately, this knowledge improves transportation decision making—meaning better and safer transportation systems, smarter investments, and a higher quality of life for Minnesota and the nation.