Executive Summary

The American public wants safer roads that can help reduce fatalities and injuries from highway crashes; new and reconstructed highways that are more compatible with established communities and the natural environment; highway rehabilitation and repair projects that are performed quickly to reduce traffic disruption and provide smooth, long-lasting pavements; and systems that manage traffic to reduce congestion and provide highway users with precise, reliable information about traffic conditions, incidents, and alternative routings. Achievement of many of these goals is possible and perhaps even essential to sustain the nation’s economic growth, improve its quality of life, and preserve the environment for future generations, but it will require continuing innovation delivered through a strong national highway research and technology (R&T) effort.

Organizing and supporting such an effort has always been challenging. The highway industry—the joint public–private enterprise responsible for the highway system—is highly decentralized. More than 35,000 government units manage the highway system, and tens of thousands of private contractors, material



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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology Executive Summary The American public wants safer roads that can help reduce fatalities and injuries from highway crashes; new and reconstructed highways that are more compatible with established communities and the natural environment; highway rehabilitation and repair projects that are performed quickly to reduce traffic disruption and provide smooth, long-lasting pavements; and systems that manage traffic to reduce congestion and provide highway users with precise, reliable information about traffic conditions, incidents, and alternative routings. Achievement of many of these goals is possible and perhaps even essential to sustain the nation’s economic growth, improve its quality of life, and preserve the environment for future generations, but it will require continuing innovation delivered through a strong national highway research and technology (R&T) effort. Organizing and supporting such an effort has always been challenging. The highway industry—the joint public–private enterprise responsible for the highway system—is highly decentralized. More than 35,000 government units manage the highway system, and tens of thousands of private contractors, material

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology suppliers, and other organizations provide supporting services. Highway R&T reflects the way the industry is organized by also being decentralized—an approach that keeps much of the research close to those who implement its results. This report examines the federal role in the nation’s overall highway R&T effort. Its emphasis is on determining whether the focus and activities of the federal program are appropriate in light of the needs of the highway system and its stakeholders as well as the roles and activities of other national highway R&T programs. CHALLENGES FACING THE U.S. HIGHWAY SYSTEM The U.S. highway system is large and complex. It is the nation’s biggest public infrastructure system, comprising more than 3.9 million mi of roadways, more than 583,000 bridges and other related structures, and a wide range of traffic control and safety systems and equipment. Spending for highways for all units of government in 1999 was more than $117 billion, representing more than two-thirds of all U.S. spending on infrastructure. Annual user expenditures for passenger and freight transportation and equipment total more than $900 billion. These expenditures support an enormous amount of travel. In addition, drivers, vehicles, and miles traveled are all increasing at a faster pace than population growth (see Figure ES-1). Moreover, the growing congestion experienced by most highway users is readily understood if one compares the much larger increase in annual vehicle-miles traveled (demand) with the increase in lane-miles (capacity) during the 17-year period in the figure. People use roadways for most passenger trips. Highways account for 2.7 trillion vehicle-miles traveled per year and in 1995 were used for nearly 90 percent of daily passenger trips and 92 percent of passenger-miles traveled. Truck traffic is a major contributor, as evidenced by the doubling of the number of large trucks (Class 8) from 1982 to 1997. Revenues of all intercity commercial carriers increased considerably between 1986 and 1996; for example, revenues for United Parcel Service shipments more than doubled during the period. Highway research has yielded many advances and innovations that have contributed to improvements in all aspects of highway system development. These include the Superpave® pavement design system, which reduces costs and extends pavement life relative to traditional designs; an automated data-collection system for commercial truckers, based on intelligent transportation system technologies, that reduces the cost of regulatory compliance for both truckers and state highway officials; use of composite materials to strengthen concrete bridge structures and reduce seismic-induced damage; and improved roadside safety devices that minimize the loss of life and property when vehicles run off the road.

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology Figure ES-1 Changes in key variables related to highway transportation, 1982–1999. Despite these advances, however, today’s aging highway system faces daunting challenges. These challenges arise from the demand–capacity imbalance noted above, as well as from highway user preferences; from legislation, including the 1991 and 1998 federal-aid highway program reauthorization bills; and from the need to sustain a well-functioning highway system as an integral part of the nation’s overall transportation system. These challenges include increasing traffic congestion, complex repair and rehabilitation needs, concerns about highway safety, environmental and energy issues, the need for improved planning and decision-making tools, and the need to assess the role of highways in the nation’s transportation system. HIGHWAY RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY PROGRAMS Change, improvement, and innovation based on highway research have long been important to the highway system. Developing and implementing highway innovations through research is primarily a public-sector activity, although it is often undertaken in conjunction with private-sector members of the highway industry. This situation

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology results from the largely public-sector ownership and management of the highway system. However, highway R&T is not a single, centrally managed program. It consists of many individual programs, including a federal highway R&T program,1 the various state R&T programs, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), and many private-sector activities.2 Universities also make an important contribution to highway research. Individual highway R&T programs have their own roles and specific responsibilities based on program ownership and purpose. Nonetheless, the programs are not isolated from each other and benefit from considerable professional interaction and information exchange. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) R&T program responds to the agency’s mission and responsibilities for carrying out the federal-aid highway program authorized by Congress. The program addresses a wide range of topics and includes many related activities in support of other highway R&T programs. The majority of the program is aimed at incremental improvements leading to lower construction and maintenance costs, better system performance, added highway capacity, reduced highway fatalities and injuries, reduced adverse environmental impacts, and a variety of user benefits (such as improved travel times and fewer hazards). A small portion of the program funding, about $900,000, supports research focused on breakthrough technologies capable of effecting improvements in highway performance and cost reductions. Such speculative, high-risk research has potentially high payoffs but is unlikely to be addressed in other highway R&T programs because of the risk or cost involved. Each state highway agency has a research program that addresses technical questions or problems of immediate concern to the agency on the basis of local needs and conditions. Results from the individual state programs are shared with and are often of considerable interest to other states. NCHRP’s applied research addresses issues common to most states and appropriate for a single, focused investigation. Private-sector research encompasses individual programs conducted or sponsored by companies that design and construct highways and supply highway-related products, national associations of industry components, and engineering associations active in construction and highway transportation. The research tends to focus on near-term issues and to be aimed at improving business operations or creating a business advantage. Finally, university researchers conduct research under contract to the FHWA, state, NCHRP, and private-sector highway R&T pro- 1 The term “federal highway R&T program” is used in this report to refer to the combined responsibilities and actions of Congress, the administration, and the Federal Highway Administration in funding federal highway research, determining research needs, setting research program priorities, and executing the research program. 2 These programs are described in Chapter 3.

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology grams and provide education and training opportunities for future transportation professionals. The roles described above are logical for the individual programs, beneficial to the national highway R&T effort, and unlikely to change because of their successful track records and strong constituency support. ASSESSMENT OF FEDERAL HIGHWAY R&T PROGRAM In examining the role of federal highway R&T, the Research and Technology Coordinating Committee recognized four contextual features of the highway industry and highway innovation that are important for understanding the federal role in highway R&T in terms of what it is and what it could be: Many stakeholders—Federal highway R&T has many external and internal stakeholders. External stakeholders include highway users, the highway industry, and people and communities served and affected by highways. Some of these entities are critical to the implementation of innovations, while others have a clear stake in the direction and management of highway research programs. The program’s internal stakeholders include FHWA’s core business units and service business units, as well as the other modal administrations and federal agencies outside the U.S. Department of Transportation, especially if they have research programs with common interests and research opportunities. In recent years Congress has played an increasing role as an internal stakeholder by directly appropriating funds for research activities. One program among many—With more than 50 programs that sponsor highway research in the United States, highway R&T is highly decentralized. Although this approach keeps the research close to important stakeholders and those who implement the results, it can result in unnecessary duplication, results that are not transferable, significant research gaps, and inadequate follow-up on promising results. Federal highway R&T cannot operate autonomously in this environment. Barriers to innovation—Highway innovation is difficult because the highway industry is so decentralized, its procurement practices at times provide little incentive to innovate, and there is considerable aversion to risk in the public sector. Achieving widespread implementation of innovations often requires a great deal of proactive technology transfer. Important federal role—For many decades the federal government, primarily through FHWA, has provided substantial funding for highway R&T, supported program staff and technology transfer activities in every state, organized international technology scans, and gathered and disseminated information about research activities and promising results. Its continued support of the State Planning

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology and Research (SP&R) Program has exerted an important influence on the state R&T programs. Successful research programs incorporate two types of features: (a) those that are characteristic of effective research programs regardless of the topic area or field involved and (b) those that are tailored to the specific context in which the program operates. Drawing on both types, the committee identified eight characteristics as key to the success and effectiveness of the federal highway R&T program: Clear mission with well-defined goals that complement other R&T programs, Significant opportunities for technological progress and innovation, Early and sustained external stakeholder involvement, Provisions for open competition and merit review to safeguard the federal R&T investment, Mechanisms for information management and dissemination, Rigorous program evaluation, Adequate resources, and Appropriate leadership of national highway R&T activities. RECOMMENDATIONS The federal role in highway R&T is vital to highway innovation. Only the federal government has the resources to undertake and sustain high-risk—but potentially high-payoff—research, and only the federal government has the incentives to invest in long-term, fundamental research. In the committee’s judgment and given the characteristics of federal agency research articulated by the National Science and Technology Council of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, FHWA’s R&T program is missing an opportunity to address this critical federal responsibility. The following are the committee’s recommendations for improving and strengthening this and other aspects of the federal highway R&T program. FHWA’s R&T program should focus on fundamental, long-term research aimed at achieving breakthroughs in the understanding of transportation-related phenomena. In the judgment of the committee, at least one-quarter of FHWA’s R&T research expenditure should be invested in such research.3 3 This recommendation for more fundamental, long-term research is consistent with a previous committee recommendation (TRB 1994). The amount recommended here, one-quarter of FHWA’s R&T budget, is approximately $52 million in terms of its Fiscal Year 2001 budget and less than 8 percent of its annual expenditures for highway R&T in all programs.

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology Fundamental, long-term research goes beyond solving problems incrementally. It involves and draws on basic research results to provide a better understanding of problems and develop innovative solutions. For example, fundamental research aimed at improving understanding of the properties of pavement materials at the molecular level could lead to better asphalt and concrete pavements by improving the predictability of the life-cycle performance of different pavement designs. Similarly, fundamental research on individual travel behavior, lifestyle choices, and household activity patterns could lead to the development of better predictive models of regional travel demand to replace current descriptive models calibrated with aggregate data. Such research has the potential for high payoffs, even though it tends to be risky and typically requires longer to complete. Current expenditures for fundamental, long-term research at FHWA are less than 0.5 percent of the agency’s R&T budget. The consensus of the committee is that this funding level is too low for such an important activity that is appropriate to a federal agency, especially since the state and private-sector highway R&T programs are unlikely to undertake this type of research. FHWA’s R&T program should undertake research aimed at (a) significant highway research gaps not addressed in other highway R&T programs and (b) emerging issues with national implications. State, private-sector, and university highway R&T programs encompass successful problem-solving efforts, but they do not invest in certain kinds of research for several reasons, including scope, scale, and time frame. For example, although the private sector has undertaken research on how to produce improved retro-reflective pavement markings, it has had little interest in pursuing research to develop a mobile retroreflectometer that would enable public agencies to determine whether existing markings meet safety standards. Such research has been undertaken by the public sector. Similarly, research on emerging issues is appropriate for federal agencies. For example, the federal government could examine how traffic diversion due to increased congestion on urban freeways can affect the performance of alternative routes not built to Interstate design standards. The committee recommends that FHWA adopt the goal of allocating approximately one-half of its R&T resources to topics addressing significant gaps in other highway R&T programs and emerging issues with national implications.4 4 The combination of this recommended research with the fundamental, long-term research recommended earlier is needed to change the current focus of FHWA’s R&T program on short-term, problem-solving research.

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology This share would leave one-quarter of FHWA’s R&T resources for other activities related to the agency’s federal mission responsibilities, including research related to policy and regulations, technology transfer and field applications, education and training, and technical support. FHWA’s R&T program should be more responsive to and influenced by the major stakeholders in highway innovation. These stakeholders include the federal, state, and local government agencies that construct, maintain, and administer the nation’s public highways; the private companies that supply materials, equipment, and services used by these agencies; and a wide array of highway users, communities, and public interest groups. FHWA’s recent solicitation of highway research needs through the National Highway R&T Partnership Forum activity is a noteworthy first step toward obtaining broad stakeholder input. Although the forum has produced useful information on research needs, more substantive stakeholder involvement in the decision making, priority setting, and resource allocation for FHWA’s research program is essential to ensure that the program addresses the problems faced by those building, maintaining, using, and affected by the nation’s highways. A significant challenge for the agency is informing Congress about stakeholder perceptions of highway research needs and priorities. Although a systematic approach to stakeholder involvement begins with problem identification, such involvement must carry through to implementation. To maintain an appropriate program focus on fundamental, long-term research, decisions about what research to pursue should balance stakeholder problem identification with expert external technical review regarding which research areas and specific research directions hold promise for significant breakthroughs. Such decisions should also reflect a strategic vision for the national transportation system. FHWA’s R&T program should be based on open competition, merit review, and systematic evaluation of outcomes. Competition for funds and merit review of proposals are the best ways of ensuring the maximum return on investment of research funding and addressing strategic national transportation system goals. Designation of specific projects or research institutions without open competition occurs at the expense of missing creative proposals prepared by the most qualified individuals and organizations throughout the nation and does not reflect the consensus of national highway stakeholders on research needs.

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology Merit review and evaluation should include panels of external stakeholders and technical experts. To ensure nationwide representation on such panels, Congress should provide FHWA with funds and the authorization to meet this need. Travel expenses for external stakeholders and technical experts involved in merit review and evaluation panels can be considerable. It is important that Congress recognize these costs and provide administrative funds for their reimbursement. FHWA’s highway R&T program should promote innovation by surveying research and practice worldwide, with the goal of identifying promising technologies, processes, and methods for use in the United States. The information from such surveys should be disseminated to the full range of highway stakeholders. FHWA’s research managers are well positioned to assume this role because of their extensive interactions with state highway agencies, private industry, other federal agencies, universities, and key highway research organizations throughout the world. They can leverage these interactions to undertake and promote the identification of promising innovations and disseminate this knowledge to all highway stakeholders. The agency’s research on pedestrian safety measures used in Europe, for example, suggested several methods of crosswalk marking, signal operation, and traffic calming for application in the United States. Two key elements of the federal highway R&T program are the University Transportation Centers (UTC) Program and the SP&R program. The UTC program is one of few opportunities for highway and transportation researchers to pursue investigator-initiated research. Although the amount of funding made available to individuals is quite modest, such funds are vital for attracting and supporting some of the nation’s best young minds to highway and transportation research and thereby play an important role in graduate education. University transportation research funded under the UTC program should be subject to the same guidelines as FHWA’s R&T program—open competition, merit review, stakeholder involvement, and continuing assessment of outcomes—to ensure maximum return on the funds invested.

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology The SP&R program, which originated more than 60 years ago, has become an important component of the national highway R&T effort. Congress should continue to authorize this program. The research portion of the SP&R program is the centerpiece of state highway agency R&T programs. The federal SP&R research funds, which amounted to $185 million in 2001, are matched by state funds on at least a 20:80 (state-to-federal) basis; although this contribution to research is significant, some states spend additional state funds on highway research. The SP&R program not only facilitates individual state highway R&T programs but also fosters research collaboration and partnering among the states in pooled-fund projects. The committee endorses the findings and recommendations of the congressionally requested study to determine the need for and focus of a future strategic highway research program (known as F-SHRP). The report of that study [titled Strategic Highway Research: Saving Lives, Reducing Congestion, Improving Quality of Life (TRB 2001)], which is being released concurrently with this report, calls for a large-scale, fixed-duration strategic research initiative aimed at the most important problems currently facing public highway agencies. F-SHRP is designed to yield research products for immediate use. It will provide a natural complement to a federal highway R&T program focused on long-term, fundamental research. F-SHRP is aimed at making substantial progress toward four critical research goals: Developing a consistent, systematic approach to performing highway renewal that is rapid, causes minimum disruption, and produces long-lived facilities; Preventing or reducing the severity of highway crashes through more accurate knowledge of crash factors and of the cost-effectiveness of selected counter-measures in addressing these factors; Providing highway users with reliable travel times by preventing and reducing the impact of nonrecurring incidents; and Developing approaches and tools for systematically integrating environmental, economic, and community requirements into the analysis, planning, and design of new highway capacity. It is important that the proposed funding for the F-SHRP research—derived from federal-aid highway program allocations to the states that would other-

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology wise be spent on construction, maintenance, and other authorized activities— not be viewed as a substitute for funding for other state and federal highway R&T programs. The above recommendations call for a strong federal highway R&T program designed to maximize the investment of public funds in a research effort that is vital to the nation’s economy and the quality of life of all its citizens. The recommendations directed at FHWA call for strong leadership, clear vision, stakeholder involvement, and accountability in all facets of the program. If these reforms are implemented, the committee would support a significant increase in the agency’s R&T budget. An FHWA R&T budget of twice the current level, while significant, would nonetheless amount to only about 1 percent of annual total public highway expenditures. Even this increase would leave the funding low compared with research expenditures in other important sectors of the economy or other federal mission agencies. Finally, the committee recognizes that reforming the federal highway R&T program in accordance with the above recommendations will require the cooperation and contributions of Congress, FHWA, and highway R&T stakeholders. Congress provides the funding and funding flexibility; FHWA manages the program and conducts research; and highway R&T stakeholders contribute in many ways, including implementing innovations. Therefore, if Congress agrees with the committee’s recommendations for an improved federal highway R&T program, it should provide FHWA with the funding and funding flexibility needed to undertake the recommended changes. Without such changes in its R&T funding and funding flexibility, FHWA will be unable to reform its R&T program as the committee has recommended. If FHWA’s highway R&T program cannot be reformed, highway R&T stakeholders should explore with Congress other mechanisms for carrying out federal highway research. Highway transportation is too important, the stresses too severe, and innovation too critical to do anything less.

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The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology REFERENCES Abbreviations FHWA Federal Highway Administration TRB Transportation Research Board TTI Texas Transportation Institute FHWA. 2000. 1999 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and Performance. U.S. Department of Transportation. Washington, D.C. TRB. 1994. Special Report 244: Highway Research: Current Programs and Future Directions. National Research Council, Washington, D.C. TRB. 2001. Special Report 260: Strategic Highway Research: Saving Lives, Reducing Congestion, Improving Quality of Life. National Research Council, Washington, D.C. TTI. 2001. 2001 Annual Mobility Report. Texas A&M University. www.mobility.tamu.edu.