A Future Strategic Highway Research Program: Overview
The outcome of the F-SHRP committee’s study confirms the need for a future strategic highway research program, as requested by Congress. Both the context described in Chapter 1 and the results of the committee’s outreach process clearly reveal the many significant issues facing the highway industry now and into the next two decades—issues often characterized by two or more significant trends that in concert produce a challenge that cannot be addressed without raising the industry’s response to a higher plane. For example, the increasing number of highway facilities in need of major renewal, together with decreasing economic and social tolerance for disruptions resulting from renewal work, requires that highway agencies undertake such renewal in a manner that is more responsive to user concerns. Increases in vehicle-miles traveled, along with inadequately decreasing fatality and injury rates, necessitate entirely new approaches to highway safety to prevent the number of deaths and injuries from rising. Growing congestion and the consequent increase in the impact of incidents on reliability, combined with greater user demand for travel time reliability, make incident management and response a more critical element of highway operations. And demand for more and more quickly provided capacity in the context of increasingly stringent environmental and social requirements calls for an altogether new way of planning and designing highways.
Developments in several areas of research and technology, discussed in the previous chapter, offer opportunities to address the above issues if sufficient resources can be concentrated within a relatively short time frame. The fact that these opportunities exist is due to decades of research in fields outside the highway enterprise and to the further development of these ideas and technologies by traditional highway research and technology programs. However, these traditional programs are usually unable to dedicate sufficient resources to a few well-defined problems of large magnitude
over a relatively short period of time. This kind of intense, large-scale focus, requiring the integration of multiple fields of research and technology, is not suited to the broad, mission-oriented, discipline-based research programs that have been the mainstay of the highway industry for half a century.
Given these considerations—significant highway needs, opportunities provided by research and technology, and constraints on existing research programs—the committee concludes that a large-scale, special-purpose, time-constrained research program is justified if the highway industry is to meet its customers’ demands over the next several decades. The success of this approach in the first SHRP reinforces the committee’s conclusion. The proposed program should be problem-oriented rather than discipline-oriented; it should include close attention to implementation considerations from its initiation; and it should possess the characteristics and meet the criteria described in Chapter 1.
In the remainder of this chapter, the vision guiding the development of the proposed research program is presented, and an overview is provided of the strategic focus areas resulting from the outreach process described in Chapter 1 and the overall goals of the four proposed research programs. The four programs are then described in detail in Chapters 4 through 7.
One of the results of the F-SHRP outreach process was the committee’s development of a vision for the highway system that captures the aspirations expressed by the outreach respondents. This vision guided the development of the F-SHRP program:
A highway system that actively contributes to improved quality of life for all Americans by providing safe, efficient mobility in an economically, socially, and environmentally responsible manner.
This vision arises from a recognition that the mobility of persons and goods is a key part of the foundation of the nation’s economic system and quality of life, that the highway system has historically played a critical role in providing mobility and fostering economic growth, and that this system promises still further advancement for all citizens.
Strategic Focus Areas and Proposed Research Programs
To realize the above vision, the committee contemplates the creation of a research program that, when implemented, will lead to measurable improvement in the overall responsiveness of the highway system. Building on the results of the outreach process and using the selection criteria outlined in Chapter 1, the committee established four strategic focus areas for F-SHRP:
Renewal—Accelerate the renewal of America’s highways. The overall goal of this research is to develop a consistent, systematic approach to performing highway renewal that is rapid, causes minimum disruption, and produces long-lived facilities (see Chapter 4).
Safety—Make a significant improvement in highway safety. The overall goal of this research is to prevent or reduce 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).
Reliability—Provide a highway system with reliable travel times. The overall goal of this research is to provide highway users with reliable travel times by preventing and reducing the impact of nonrecurring incidents (see Chapter 6).
Capacity—Provide highway capacity in support of the nation’s economic, environmental, and social goals. The overall goal of this research is to develop approaches and tools for systematically integrating environmental, economic, and community requirements into the analysis, planning, and design of new highway capacity (see Chapter 7).
In this report, strategic highway problems and promising avenues of research and technology for addressing these problems are identified. Detailed research plans are not proposed; instead, overall direction for those who may be charged with developing such plans is provided. The committee recommends that an interim planning stage take place between the publication of this report and the commencement of the research program (see Chapter 8). In the event that such an interim effort cannot be carried out, it will need to be the first step taken once the research has been funded. The descriptions of the four research programs in Chapter 4 through 7 are intended to keep such a planning effort focused on the identified strategic needs, without unduly constraining researchers and research managers in exploring and developing the most promising research tasks and technologies.