The highway system supports the nation’s economy and quality of life and provides critical connections among the other modes of the transportation system. At the same time, highways pose challenges related to the mitigation of potentially adverse impacts on the environment and the communities through which they pass. Throughout the history of roads in the United States, research and application of new technologies have enabled the creation of a highway system that provides increasingly better service and contributed to the development of solutions for reducing adverse impacts. In 1987, a new model of highway research was initiated under the Strategic Highway Research Program. SHRP’s success in contributing to improvements in the highway system and its operations has been attributed to its focus on a few strategic needs, addressed through research that complemented the efforts of established highway research programs.
New and perhaps more challenging strategic needs have arisen for the nation’s highway system since the SHRP research was first performed. Today’s strategic highway goals must be achieved under more varied constraints and in response to greater customer demands. In previous chapters of this report some of the most pressing strategic highway needs have been identified, and an ambitious but realistic program of research to address them has been described. A summary of the F-SHRP committee’s recommendations is provided in this chapter. The essential characteristics of the proposed program are listed in Box 9-1. Additional details on each recommendation can be found in the noted chapters.
Research Program Recommendation
Recommendation 1: A Future Strategic Highway Research Program should be established.
Given the significant needs and problem areas identified through the outreach process conducted for this study, the opportunities to address these needs through research and technology, and the limited ability of existing programs to exploit these opportunities, the F-SHRP committee concludes that a large-scale, special-purpose, time-constrained research program, modeled after the first SHRP, is justified if the highway system is to meet its customers’ demands over the next several decades. The research conducted under F-SHRP should be focused in the following four areas:
Developing a consistent, systematic approach to performing highway renewal that is rapid, causes minimum disruption, and produces long-lived facilities (see Chapter 4);
Preventing or reducing the severity of highway crashes through more accurate knowledge of crash factors and of the cost-effectiveness of selected countermeasures in addressing these factors (see Chapter 5);
Characteristics of a Future Strategic Highway Research Program
The committee has identified various criteria and characteristics to help define different aspects of F-SHRP, the four strategic focus areas, specific research programs, and the overall program’s administrative structure. Taken together, the following characteristics describe what F-SHRP should look like and provide a guide for further development of the program:
Providing highway users with reliable travel times by preventing and reducing the impact of nonrecurring incidents (see Chapter 6); and
Developing approaches and tools for systematically integrating environmental, economic, and community requirements into the analysis, planning, and design of new highway capacity (see Chapter 7).
Administrative and Funding Recommendations
Recommendation 2: The administrative structure of F-SHRP should meet the following criteria: (a) it should possess essential quality control mechanisms (including open solicitation and merit-based selection of research proposals, appropriate review procedures during the conduct of research, and mechanisms for redirecting research as needed on the basis of results); (b) it should have the characteristics required to carry out a large contract research program (including possessing appropriate management, administrative, and contract support capabilities and the ability to attract and retain talented staff and other resources); (c) it should have focused core staff and secure funding over the program’s time frame (including a reasonably predictable budget that can be managed on a multiyear, program basis, not subject to annual programming decisions or competition with other research priorities); and (d) it should have the flexibility to institute stakeholder governance mechanisms at both the executive, overall program level and the technical, component program level.
The choice of administrative structure should be made during the interim work stage (see Recommendation 5). The details of the mechanisms to be used to meet the above four criteria should be developed during the interim stage as well. The organizational design should address the fundamental aspects of the F-SHRP philosophy outlined in Chapter 1. That is, it should support a customer orientation, a systems approach to research, the incorporation of nontraditional research, and coordination with existing highway (and other appropriate) research and technology programs. The committee points out that the National Research Council meets these criteria and successfully administered the first SHRP.
Recommendation 3: The same funding mechanism used for SHRP is recommended for F-SHRP: a takedown of 0.25 percent of the federal-aid highway funds apportioned under the next surface transportation authorizing legislation.
Using the federal-aid highway funding levels of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century and assuming a reauthorization period of 6 years, this recommended funding mechanism can be expected to produce approximately $450 million to $500 million. Given the relative scope and complexity of the required activities, the distribution of funding among the four research areas should be approximately 25 percent for the infrastructure renewal research; 40 percent for the safety research; 20 percent for the travel time reliability research; and 15 percent for the research on tools for providing new capacity in an environmentally, economically, and socially responsive manner. During the interim planning stage, detailed cost estimates should be developed and the total funding requirement, distribution, and percentage takedown modified as necessary.
Recommendation 4: F-SHRP should address the need for implementation of program results from the initial planning stages throughout the management and conduct of the program.
Recommendation 4a: A determination should be made as early as possible regarding where the long-term responsibility for coordination and facilitation of implementation will lie.
Recommendation 4b: A portion of the research funding should be devoted to implementation-related activities appropriate to the research stage; additional funding for full-scale implementation activities will be required once the research program has been completed.
(Other implementation-related considerations for the research stage are discussed in Chapter 8.)
Interim Work Recommendation
Recommendation 5: A strategic direction for F-SHRP is provided in this report; additional detailed planning is necessary before the research can be carried out. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and the Federal Highway Administration should consider funding and overseeing the development of detailed research work plans during the period immediately preceding initiation of the research program proper (which is assumed to take place at the beginning of the next surface transportation authorization period).
The interim work should include extensive outreach, a broad range of technical expertise appropriate to each research program, and review of relevant international efforts. (A description of this activity can be found in Chapter 8.)