1
Introduction

The American lifestyle is strongly dependent on highway transportation. Americans use personal vehicles for 87 percent of daily trips and 90 percent of long-distance trips (BTS 2006, 4). Moreover, highways are the backbone of the decentralized U.S. economy, whose functioning would be unimaginable without the access highways provide for motor carriers. Truck ton-miles represent about 30 percent of total U.S. ton-miles of freight; more important, that tonnage accounts for nearly 75 percent of the value of all freight shipped (BTS 2006, Tables B3 and B4).

The United States has the fourth-largest land area of any country and the greatest dependence on roads and highways. The nation has 3.2 million miles (8.4 million lane miles) of roads that connect metropolitan areas, towns, and counties to serve more than 300 million residents and 7 million business establishments (BTS 2006, Chapter 1). Although the U.S. economy has become increasingly dependent on the electronic transport of information over the Internet, there is no substitute for the physical movement of people to jobs and freight to its destinations. Furthermore, as the U.S. economy has become more dependent on trade, transportation has become even more important to the nation’s global competitiveness. Between 1996 and 2006, for example, U.S. merchandise freight between the United States and Canada and Mexico more than doubled in value, from $419 billion to $866 billion; the bulk of this freight (88 percent by value) was moved by truck (Sprung 2007).

Although the crucial role of a good transportation system in economic growth is obvious, some have questioned the efficiency of public highway investments. Yet according to some studies (such as Mamuneas and Nadiri 2003) the benefits of the U.S. investment in highways over the past several decades rival the economic returns from private investment.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 7
1 Introduction The American lifestyle is strongly dependent on highway transportation. Americans use personal vehicles for 87 percent of daily trips and 90 percent of long-distance trips (BTS 2006, 4). Moreover, highways are the back- bone of the decentralized U.S. economy, whose functioning would be unimaginable without the access highways provide for motor carriers. Truck ton-miles represent about 30 percent of total U.S. ton-miles of freight; more important, that tonnage accounts for nearly 75 percent of the value of all freight shipped (BTS 2006, Tables B3 and B4). The United States has the fourth-largest land area of any country and the greatest dependence on roads and highways. The nation has 3.2 million miles (8.4 million lane miles) of roads that connect metropolitan areas, towns, and counties to serve more than 300 million residents and 7 million business establishments (BTS 2006, Chapter 1). Although the U.S. econ- omy has become increasingly dependent on the electronic transport of information over the Internet, there is no substitute for the physical move- ment of people to jobs and freight to its destinations. Furthermore, as the U.S. economy has become more dependent on trade, transportation has become even more important to the nation’s global competitiveness. Between 1996 and 2006, for example, U.S. merchandise freight between the United States and Canada and Mexico more than doubled in value, from $419 billion to $866 billion; the bulk of this freight (88 percent by value) was moved by truck (Sprung 2007). Although the crucial role of a good transportation system in economic growth is obvious, some have questioned the efficiency of public high- way investments. Yet according to some studies (such as Mamuneas and Nadiri 2003) the benefits of the U.S. investment in highways over the past several decades rival the economic returns from private investment. 7

OCR for page 7
8 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006–2009: Strengths and Weaknesses The advisory role of the Research and Technology Coordinating Com- mittee (RTCC) represents an effort on the part of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to maximize that investment. This report presents RTCC’s assessment of the highway research pro- grams of FHWA; highway-related research funded through the Research and Innovative Technology Administration; and the Strategic High- way Research Program 2, which was authorized in the Safe, Account- able, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). This assessment was conducted in accordance with the principles for research articulated by Congress in Title V of SAFETEA-LU. These principles establish • The elements the federal program should contain, • The criteria that justify federal investment, • The types of research (basic, applied, developmental) that should be included, • The role of stakeholders in guiding agendas and reviewing results, • The importance of merit review and competition in the awarding of research funding, and • The need for evaluation. BACKGROUND Challenges As valuable and important as highway transportation is, it faces enormous challenges. For example, demand on the system increased sharply over the past decade. In 2006, total highway travel by personal vehicles, motor- cycles, and light and heavy trucks totaled 3 trillion miles, an increase of 25 percent since 1996 (FHWA 2006, Table VM-1). Much of the highway system is not only reaching or exceeding its expected service life but also carrying a much heavier burden than anticipated. The amount of traffic on rural Interstates more than doubled between 1970 and 2005, but the loadings placed on those highways, largely because of more trucks trav- eling more miles, increased sixfold during that period (FHWA 2005). Described below are safety, environmental, congestion, and maintenance challenges faced by the system; similarly daunting challenges could be cited for finance, energy, institutional reform, and others.

OCR for page 7
Introduction 9 Safety In 2007, motor vehicle crashes resulted in 41,059 fatalities and 2.49 mil- lion injuries (NHTSA 2008). The economic cost of motor vehicle crashes, to say nothing of the pain and suffering of injured victims and their loved ones, was estimated to total $230.6 billion in 2000, equivalent to 2.3 percent of gross domestic product (Blincoe et al. 2002). Injuries from motor vehi- cle crashes are the leading cause of death for those under age 35 (National Safety Council 2000, 10–11). Environment Although the environmental impact of highway transportation has been reduced considerably as a result of lower emissions per vehicle, the dam- age is nonetheless sizable. Highway vehicles remain a major source of air pollution. Since 1990, highway transportation’s contribution to air pol- lution has decreased for all pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act [carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and fine particulate matter], even as vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have increased (BTS 2007b, Figure 6-4). Even so, highway transport still accounts for 55 percent of carbon monoxide, 35 percent of NOx, 26 percent of VOCs, and 2 percent of fine particulates emitted into the atmosphere (BTS 2007a, Tables 4-40–4-44). Although not currently regulated, car- bon dioxide (CO2) from highway transport accounts for 82 percent of transportation-generated CO2 (BTS 2006, Table K-4); transportation as a whole represents about one-third of U.S. CO2 emissions (BTS 2007a, Table 4-49). The adverse human health effects of vehicle emissions are fairly well established. Although the consequences for ecosystems are much more challenging to measure, highway vehicle emissions are known to harm plants and animals, while roads and the noise from vehicles fragment and disrupt habitats. It is extremely difficult to assign the economic costs to society of the health and environmental consequences of highway trans- portation; doing so requires making many assumptions. To give some sense of scale, however, the midpoint in the range of estimates from one system- atic and comprehensive effort to monetize the costs of highway trans- portation’s impact, due largely to highway vehicle emissions, is about $290 billion annually in 2000 dollars (Delucchi 1998, Table 1-9a).

OCR for page 7
10 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006–2009: Strengths and Weaknesses Congestion The nation’s heavy reliance on highway transportation results in more demand on the system in peak periods than can be supplied. Almost all of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States are experiencing growing and frustrating delays in daily trips. The societal cost of conges- tion in U.S. metropolitan areas for 2005 is estimated at $78 billion, due to 4.2 billion hours of time wasted in delay and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel (Schrank and Lomax 2007). Maintenance The nation’s 8.2 million lane-miles of roads and highways represents the largest public works investment in U.S. history. The Bureau of Economic Analysis estimates the value of highway capital stock (in 1996) at $1.13 tril- lion (BEA 2007). Given the magnitude of this asset and natural aging and wear and tear, it should not be surprising that the cost to maintain the system is also extremely large. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that it would cost all units of government about $79 billion annually (in constant 2004 dollars) merely to maintain the existing condition and performance of this huge inventory of assets under current use over the next 20 years. Improving deficient structures and pavements—limited to those invest- ments that would be cost-beneficial—and improving system performance would cost about $132 billion annually (USDOT 2006). Maintenance of signals and intelligent transportation system technologies, an increasingly important component of highway investments and operations, would add to this total. Most of the national highway system was built in the second half of the 20th century. Much of this infrastructure has reached or exceeded its design life and must be substantially restored or replaced. This mas- sive reinvestment will be necessary even if high energy prices moderate future growth in VMT to below projections. The problem is com- pounded by lower-than-anticipated revenues for funding of highway capital programs. Lower-than-expected future VMT and a shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles would reduce gasoline taxes and other user fee revenues to the federal and state trust funds that support highway and transit capital programs.

OCR for page 7
Introduction 11 Opportunities The challenges facing the highway system cannot be addressed simply by spending more money, even if doing so were possible. Funding for highways is currently constrained by the sharp drawdown in the federal highway trust fund and a general unwillingness to raise fees or taxes that support transportation infrastructure. Successfully addressing many of the challenges discussed above will require new and more efficient ways of doing things—new materials, better and faster construction techniques, safer designs, better information for drivers, new financing mechanisms, options for pricing use of the system, and many more. This is the role that research, development, deployment, and training must fill. Described in boxes throughout this report are examples of cases in which publicly funded highway research programs have devised innovations that have resulted in longer-lived assets at reduced costs, reduced environmental impacts, saved lives, and improved economic efficiency. Additional inno- vation will be needed to improve safety, reduce congestion, address envi- ronmental and energy concerns, and provide the quality system the nation’s citizens expect. ILLUSTRATIVE RESEARCH BENEFITS The Superpave® Design System In the early 1980s, widespread concern about the premature failure of hot-mix asphalt pavements led Congress to mandate an aggres- sive, well-funded special research effort aimed at better under- standing and improving the performance of asphalt pavements. The 7-year Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP), which was managed by the National Research Council, developed a new system of standard specifications, test methods, and engineering practices for selecting materials and mix proportions for hot-mix asphalt pavement. This Superpave system better matches combi- nations of asphalt binder and crushed stone to the climatic and traffic conditions on particular highways. State departments of (continued on next page)

OCR for page 7
12 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006–2009: Strengths and Weaknesses Illustrative Research Benefits: The Superpave® Design System (continued) transportation (DOTs) spend more than $10 billion annually on hot-mix asphalt pavements, so even modest improvements in pavement durability and useful life can produce substantial cost savings for agencies and time savings for motorists. SHRP rolled out the Superpave system in 1993. However, it took years for individual states and their paving contractors to switch to the system, which represented a significant departure not only in design but also in the procedures and equipment used for testing. Each state DOT had to be convinced that the benefits would outweigh the modest additional costs of Super- pave mixes, as well as the time and effort required to train its staff and acquire the necessary equipment. When surveyed in 2005, 50 state DOTs (including those of the District of Colum- bia and Puerto Rico) were using Superpave, and the remaining two states indicated that they would be doing so by the end of 2006. Throughout the implementation period, research contin- ued with the aim of refining the system, for example, to consider the use of recycled asphalt pavements in mix design. It may be years before the full benefits and costs of Super- pave are known and quantified. A 1997 study by the Texas Transportation Institute projected that when it is fully imple- mented, net savings over 20 years should approach $1.8 billion annually—approximately $500 million in direct public savings and $1.3 billion in highway user savings. Moreover, analyses by individual states and cities have found dramatic advances in per- formance at little or no increase in cost. Superpave is an example of a successful research program; equally important, it demonstrates that a vigorous and sustained technology transfer effort is often required for innovation in a sector as decentralized as highway transportation. SOURCE: Skinner 2008.

OCR for page 7
Introduction 13 ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT Chapter 2 provides an overview of the various highway research pro- grams in the United States. Although the federal program is the largest, it is only one of many; FHWA’s program represents about 30 percent of all highway research funding. Chapter 3 provides a detailed descrip- tion of each of the major highway research programs funded through Title V of SAFETEA-LU—the programs whose assessment is the focus of this report. Chapter 4 delineates the principles for highway research that Congress included in SAFETEA-LU and explains how they were slightly modified to form the basis for the committee’s assessment of the programs described in Chapter 3. Chapter 5 presents the commit- tee’s detailed assessment according to these principles, as well as some additional criteria the committee deems important. In the final chapter, this assessment is consolidated into a set of summary findings and the committee’s recommendations. REFERENCES Abbreviations BEA Bureau of Economic Analysis BTS Bureau of Transportation Statistics FHWA Federal Highway Administration NHTSA National Highway Traffic Safety Administration USDOT United States Department of Transportation BEA. 2007. Table 7.1A. Current-Cost Net Stock of Government Fixed Assets, 1925–1996. www.bea.gov/national/FA2004/TableView.asp?SelectedTable=35&FirstYear=1991& LastYear=1996&Freq=Year. Accessed Sept. 6, 2007. Blincoe, L. J., A. G. Seay, E. Zaloshnja, T. R. Miller, E. O. Romano, S. Luchter, and R. S. Spicer. 2002. The Economic Impact of Motor Vehicle Crashes. DOT HS 809 446. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, D.C. BTS. 2006. Transportation Statistics Annual Report. Research and Innovative Technology Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C. BTS. 2007a. National Transportation Statistics (updated quarterly). www.bts.gov/ publications/national_transportation_statistics. Accessed Sept. 5, 2007. BTS. 2007b. Pocket Guide to Transportation 2007. Research and Innovative Technology Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C.

OCR for page 7
14 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006–2009: Strengths and Weaknesses Delucchi, M. 1998. The Annualized Social Cost of Motor-Vehicle Use in the U.S., 1990–1991: Summary of Theory, Data, Methods, and Results. UCD-ITS-RR-96-3 (1). www.fhwa. dot.gov/scalds/delucchi.pdf. Accessed Sept. 8, 2007. FHWA. 2005. Comparison of Growth in Volumes and Loadings on the Interstate System (chart). www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohim/hs05/index.htm. Accessed Sept. 6, 2007. FHWA. 2006. Highway Statistics 2006. U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C. www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/ohim/hs06/index.htm. Accessed Sept. 15, 2008. Mamuneas, T., and I. Nadiri. 2003. Production, Consumption, and the Rate of Return to Highway Investment Capital. Federal Highway Administration, Office of Policy Development. www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/otps/summaries.htm#macro1. Accessed Feb. 15, 2008. National Safety Council. 2000. Injury Facts 2000 Edition. Itasca, Ill. NHTSA. 2008. Traffic Safety Facts, 2007 Traffic Safety Annual Assessment—Highlights. DOT HS 811 017. U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, D.C. Schrank, D., and T. Lomax. 2007. 2007 Urban Mobility Report. Texas Transportation Institute. tti.tamu.edu/documents/mobility_report_2007.pdf. Accessed Sept. 30, 2007. Skinner, R. 2008. Highway Design and Construction: The Innovation Challenge. The Bridge: Linking Engineering and Society, Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 5–12. Sprung, M. 2007. Increased Trade Spurs Growth in North American Freight Transporta- tion. Special Report. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Washington, D.C. USDOT. 2006. 2006 Status of the Nation’s Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions and Performance. Report to Congress. www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/2006cpr/execsumm.htm. Accessed Feb. 15, 2008.