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6 Summary Findings and Recommendations Highway transportation is the principal circulatory system for the national economy. It has contributed to the past few decades of national economic growth but is under severe stress due to heavy demand, aging of a huge capital stock, environmental impacts, and shortages of funding to address these problems. Continued innovations to make highways perform better, last longer, and cost less are essential to sustaining the contributions made by highways to national prosperity. Current spikes in energy prices could have profound effects on highway transportation, including the funding of highway and transit programs, the consequences of which are poorly understood. Research on such issues is needed to guide national and state policy decisions. Public-sector highway research has been the primary source of innovation and insight to meet national needs for highway trans- portation, but the programs that support this research are also under stress because of funding and other constraints. This chapter summarizes the Research and Technology Coordinating Committeeâs (RTCCâs) eval- uation of the strengths and weaknesses of the federal investment in high- way research during 2006â2009 and presents recommendations based on those ï¬ndings. SUMMARY FINDINGS Principles for Research This report has analyzed the conformance of highway research funded through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efï¬cient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) to the principles for research articulated by Congress in the preamble to the research title (Title V), 131
132 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006â2009: Strengths and Weaknesses and it has presented the committeeâs judgment about priority program areas. These ï¬ndings are summarized below. Full Innovation Cycle The portfolio of highway research programs managed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Research and Innovative Tech- nology Administration (RITA), and the Strategic Highway Research Pro- gram (SHRP) 2 collectively covers the full innovation cycle, with activities in agenda setting, research conduct, technology transfer, and deploy- ment. More effort is needed, however, to establish national priorities that would inform all highway research programs, and additional resources are required to ensure that successful research results are deployed to the ï¬eld. Highway research in the United States has a decentralized manage- ment structure: each state has a program, some private-sector companies and associations have programs, and there are complementary federal programs. This structure was established in 1936, shortly after the found- ing of the federalâstate highway partnership, and continues to serve the nation well. The geographic scale of the United States results in wide vari- ation across the states in population, development patterns, congestion, economies, climate, soil conditions, and sources of materials. Thus states, as the principal owners and operators of highways, require individual research programs to focus on their particular needs. The State Planning and Research (SP&R) Program is funded through Title I but linked to Title V through requirements under this principle that FHWA work with the states in research, development, and technology (RD&T). The SP&R program links federal and state programs, ensures cooperation, and avoids duplication; it is also an essential element in the deployment of innovations at the state and local levels. In principle, the federal role of coordinating across research programs, leading in advanced research, ï¬ll- ing gaps not covered by state or private programs, and facilitating tech- nology transfer provides coherence across this decentralized enterprise, avoids duplication, and facilitates innovation. The considerable expansion of funding for University Transportation Centers (UTCs) in SAFETEA-LU and the lack of linkage between federal mission agencies and individual UTCs have made apparent the lack of a prioritized national research agenda for highways that reï¬ects broad-based
Summary Findings and Recommendations 133 stakeholder input and support. FHWAâs Corporate Master Plan for Research, Deployment, and Innovation has committed the agency to processes for the conduct of its programs that are consistent with the SAFETEA-LU principles. The agency has mission-oriented research plans in each of its program areas that were developed with stakeholder input. The Corporate Master Plan and FHWAâs research plans, however, deï¬ne federal rather than national priorities. SAFETEA-LU directs UTCs to ensure that their research is consistent with the 2002 report Highway Research and Technology: The Need for Greater Investment (National Highway R&T Partnership 2002) or with the Federal Transit Adminis- trationâs National Research and Technology Program. The former, how- ever, presents a wide range of research topics to make the case for additional investment in highway research and development (R&D) but does not establish priorities. Because of the restrictions on use of most federal funds to match UTC funding, federal agencies have few incentives to offer to inï¬uence the direction of UTC research. An ongoing set of carefully developed national priorities would help focus the efforts of all highway research programs. Justiï¬cation for Federal Investment The RD&T programs of FHWA, RITA, and SHRP 2 are easily justiï¬ed by the criteria of national signiï¬cance, suboptimal private investment, and the importance of encouraging more efï¬cient use of federal aid. The education component of the UTC Program is justiï¬ed by the national signiï¬cance of having a skilled transportation workforce available in a national labor mar- ket. There is certainly a need for independent fundamental and advanced highway research of the sort that is typically performed at universities, but the UTC Program requirement of matching research funding on a dollar- for-dollar basis results in too heavy a bias toward highly applied research. Most of the matching funding is provided by states through SP&R fund- ing, and most state departments of transportation (DOTs) want research to address speciï¬c short-term problems they confront. Content The federal highway research program does not cover all the content areas Congress expects, largely as an inevitable consequence of overdesignation
134 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006â2009: Strengths and Weaknesses and earmarks. Because of the resulting required cuts in existing programs, very little planning research and virtually no policy research appears in FHWAâs portfolio, creating signiï¬cant gaps in the FHWA program. FHWA was also forced to make severe cuts in funding for support of its research and testing laboratories, as well as information dissemination and exchange between and among researchers and practitioners. The 2008 Technical Cor- rections legislation redressed some of these shortfalls, but not all. Another concern is adequate resources for deployment activities. Much of FHWAâs applied RD&T program is designed to foster and sup- port the adoption of innovations by the states and local governments that own and operate roads. Fostering innovations requires more than simply convincing states and local governments about the merits of new ideas. It must encompass deliberate programs of technology transfer, which include development of manuals, guidebooks, and speciï¬cations, where appropriate, and may include pilot projects to prove that new concepts work in the ï¬eld. Adoption of innovations may also require incentives that reduce the risk of trying something new. Important progress has been made under SAFETEA-LU. The Explor- atory Advanced Research Program is an important new initiative. Advanced research refers to research with the potential to result in break- throughs in understanding that could substantially improve practice. No entity other than the federal government is capable of supporting this type of risky but vitally important research. Congress increased funding substantially for advanced research in SAFETEA-LU; such research cur- rently represents about 15 percent of FHWAâs and SHRP 2âs total port- folios and about 8 percent of all of Title V and SHRP 2 funding. Stakeholder Input FHWA has signiï¬cantly revised its RD&T programs to foster stakeholder input, as reï¬ected in agencywide commitments made in the agencyâs Corporate Master Plan. FHWAâs ability to deliver on the commitments made in this plan, however, which derive from the requirements placed on the agency by the research principles of SAFETEA-LU, is constrained by the lack of any authorized funding for this purpose. The 50-50 matching requirement for the UTC Program provides for responsiveness to sponsors, ensuring the relevance that stakeholder
Summary Findings and Recommendations 135 involvement is meant to achieve. However, because state DOTs provide most of the matching funds and their interests are usually highly applied, the program has drifted away from the original intent to fund funda- mental or advanced transportation research at universities. SHRP 2 is a good model of stakeholder involvement in research. Includ- ing the preâSAFETEA-LU planning phases, the program has allowed stakeholders to set program goals, develop a research agenda, select proj- ects, merit review proposals, and peer review projects and their products. Competition and Merit Review Most of FHWAâs RD&T funding is awarded competitively, and merit review is used for the purpose. Use of external experts in merit review is part of the agencyâs plans, but its practice is limited by inadequate resources. Other important points related to this principle include the following: â¢ About 18â38 percent of Title V and SHRP 2 funding is earmarked by Congress, depending on how one deï¬nes an earmark; therefore, at least 18 percent of the funding fails to adhere to the competition and merit review criterion.1 Moreover, some earmarked projects are not nationally signiï¬cant. â¢ The committee has concerns about how much FHWA relies on indeï¬- nite delivery/indeï¬nite quantity (IDIQ) contracts for awarding research funding because of the way in which this contracting procedure limits the pool of potential competitors. â¢ SHRP 2 programs are responsive to stakeholders, and 80 percent of SHRP 2 funds are awarded in full and open competition, with deci- sions made through merit review by external experts. The remaining 1 If one includes all the earmarked research in Title V, which is mostly highway-related but includes a number of earmarked research programs administered by other modal administrations of the U.S. Department of Transportation, along with SHRP 2, the total reaches 24 percent. The share earmarked grows if SHRP 2 is considered an earmark, as it is by some. Because SHRP 2 research funds are all subject to full and open competition, however, RTCC does not consider SHRP 2 to be an earmark. For all of Title V, which also includes training and education, the UTC Program, and the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Program among others, along with all SHRP 2 funding, 35 percent is earmarked if SHRP 2 is included, and 24 percent if it is not. If the analysis is restricted to FHWAâs share of Title V, then 18 percent of FHWAâs budget is earmarked if SHRP 2 is not considered an earmark and 38 percent is earmarked if SHRP 2 is considered an earmark.
136 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006â2009: Strengths and Weaknesses percentage of funds covers stakeholder involvement processes and administration. â¢ Because about 62 percent of Title V UTCs and 58 percent of Title V UTC funding are earmarked, a major portion of the UTC Program fails to meet the criterion of merit review and awarding of funds based on competition. The practice of earmarking is often justiï¬ed by the ability of elected representatives to best judge the needs of their constituencies. Selecting the most meritorious research ideas is arguably a more complex process. The best research proposals may come from institutions outside a rep- resentativeâs own jurisdiction, for example. The merit review process for the selection of research proposals by expert peers, along with peer review of completed research, has made the U.S. scientiï¬c enterprise the envy of the world. These standards prevail in the legislation governing the renowned programs of the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, but not in the legislation governing the programs of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Performance Review and Evaluation The outputs of all highway RD&T projects funded by FHWA are evalu- ated by agency staff. End users are also invited and encouraged to review the results of major projects in many FHWA R&T programs. FHWA has established peer committees to review its Long-Term Pavement Perfor- mance (LTPP) Program and its pavement technology development and deployment programs. SHRP 2 projects and products are evaluated by staff, Expert Task Groups made up of stakeholders, and the SHRP 2 Technical Coordinating Committees. The Government Accountability Ofï¬ce will also evaluate SHRP 2. It is difï¬cult to judge the research ben- eï¬ts of the UTC Program. Each program is required to undergo peer review, but the results of that review are not made public. Individually earmarked universities and research institutes outside of the UTC Pro- gram have no real accountability for the funds they receive. Funding The level of investment in highway R&D is far from adequate. Funding for highway R&D is only about one-quarter the level of industrial investment
Summary Findings and Recommendations 137 in R&D: industrial R&D equals about 3.34 percent of revenues from sales, but highway R&D is only 0.88 percent of highway funding (a public- sector proxy for revenues from sales). Congress designated and earmarked funding for speciï¬c research pro- grams in SAFETEA-LU that exceeded the total amount authorized for Title V, and this resulted in signiï¬cant unintended consequences. For- merly, FHWA supported many RD&T activities with authorized fund- ing that was not speciï¬cally designated by Congress. In addition to having to scale back many programs to fund all the SAFETEA-LU desig- nations and earmarks, FHWA lost all funding for speciï¬c activities. Some of this funding was restored 3 years after passage of SAFETEA-LU in the Technical Corrections legislation. Nonetheless, even after that legisla- tion, requirements placed on FHWA by SAFETEA-LU are underfunded or not funded at all (see Table 6-1). Policy research was virtually elimi- nated. (The $1 million in annual funding restored in the Technical Cor- rections legislation is far short of the $9 million to $10 million FHWA previously had available for policy research.) No funding is available to meet some elements of the SAFETEA-LU principles for RD&T, includ- ing performance review and evaluation involving external experts and stakeholders. Major programs strongly supported by stakeholders, such as SHRP 2, planning and environmental cooperative research, the Long- Term Bridge Performance (LTBP) Program, and the LTPP Program, are significantly underfunded compared with their authorized levels, thereby compromising their integrity and intent. The request for SHRP 2, for example, was $75 million annually over 6 years; $50 million annually TABLE 6-1 FHWA RD&T Programs Signiï¬cantly Reduced or Zero Funded by SAFETEA-LU TEA-21, SAFETEA-LU, FY 2003 FY 2008 Difference Program ($ millions) ($ millions) (percent) Operations 16.2 8.1 â50 Safety 19.4 14.1 â27 Planning and Environment 23.1 20.2 â13 Policy 9.5 1.2 â87 R&T Program Support 12.0 4.4 â63 NOTE: FY = ï¬scal year; TEA-21 = Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
138 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006â2009: Strengths and Weaknesses was authorized over 4 years, $42.3 million of which will actually be received. Thus the program received only 36 percent of the total requested amount of funding over 4 instead of 6 years. RECOMMENDATIONS Principles for Research To the maximum extent practicable, that is, in almost all instances, FHWA and RITA should award funds for research in accordance with the principle of competition and merit review. To ensure application of the procedures for research quality control that have helped maintain U.S. leadership in science and technology, funding to universities through the UTC Program should be awarded only through the application of this principle. All universities should be allowed to compete for these funds regardless of prior levels of transportation research. Research projects should be awarded through contracts, cooperative agreements, or grants rather than through IDIQs. IDIQs have an appro- priate role in such areas as testing and development, technical assistance, and other support for federal research programs and laboratories, and in cases when research must be initiated on a fast track to meet national pri- orities. Sole-source funding should be allowed for in the relatively rare circumstances where it is appropriate, such as when only a single agency has the capability required. Congress recognized the importance of advanced, policy, and plan- ning research to the federal program by including them under the âcon- tentâ principle for Title V. The Exploratory Advanced Research Program begun under SAFETEA-LU should be continued. To permit UTCs to devote more of their efforts to advanced research, the matching require- ment for UTC research should be reduced to a 20 percent university match. Policy research funding should be increased above the levels that existed before SAFETEA-LU; the activities funded through this pro- gram need to be restored. In addition, many pressing questions can be addressed through research and demonstrations. For example, continued high gasoline prices will have profound consequences for how the nation funds highway and transit programs. Much work needs to be done to develop alternative funding mechanisms, with appropriate consideration
Summary Findings and Recommendations 139 of the trade-offs involved. FHWA also needs to have resources to assist states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and nongovern- mental organizations in carrying out federal planning and environmental requirements. Additional support for data collection and improvements to travel models are needed for MPOs and states to fulï¬ll their obligations. Finally, in accordance with the principle of federal support for research and technology transfer by the states, the SP&R Program should be reauthorized. Funding FHWA should be provided the resources it needs to deliver on the com- mitments made in its Corporate Master Plan to involve stakeholders more substantively in its RD&T program, speciï¬cally in agenda setting, merit review, and peer review. FHWA should be provided more funding for mission-related activities, such as program support for regulations and oversight, technical assistance, information sharing, technical exchange, and other deployment activities. Funding for many program areas signiï¬cantly cut back in SAFETEA-LU, including operations, safety, and planning and environmental research, should be restored. Funding for policy research should be restored and expanded to meet pressing national needs. FHWA should be given resources for stakeholder technical assistance and deployment activities in the planning and environmental area that were formerly provided under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. Speciï¬c pro- grams supported by stakeholders also require additional attention. RTCC recommends that â¢ Congress consider extending SHRP 2 for 2 years into the next autho- rization and funding it under Title 1, as the states have requested;2 â¢ The LTPP Program be funded to complete the data collection required for the experiment, fund the analysis needed to realize the beneï¬ts of 2 RTCC endorsed the funding of SHRP 2 in its 2001 report The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology. The program was subsequently authorized in SAFETEA-LU, and TRB was asked to manage the program. The committee believes that the program meets all the principles of research laid out in SAFETEA-LU. The program received much less funding and time than was requested and therefore is a candidate for continued funding. Even so, the committee does not wish to be per- ceived to be recommending future work for TRB to manage. Thus the committeeâs recommenda- tion urges Congress to consider funding of an extension of the program on its merits.
140 The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006â2009: Strengths and Weaknesses the investment, and preserve the massive database on road perfor- mance collected under the program (according to one estimate, these activities would cost $9 million annually through 2015); â¢ The LTBP Program and other programs with broad-based stake- holder support authorized in SAFETEA-LU be reauthorized; â¢ The surface transportation environment and planning research pro- gram supported by stakeholders be authorized as a cooperative research program as recommended in Surface Transportation Environmental Research: A Long-Term Strategy (TRB 2002); and â¢ Funding for research programs to improve travel forecasting models and practice be authorized as recommended in Metropolitan Travel Forecasting: Current Practice and Future Direction (TRB 2007). Data Collection Much greater emphasis on data collection is necessary. The ability to answer many of the most important policy questions in highway trans- portation requires much better data. Research and better data are also needed in the planning area to develop the advanced modeling tools needed to meet federal and local planning and environmental mandates. States and MPOs rely heavily on the National Household Transportation Survey; that survey was dropped by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), whose funding was also sharply reduced in SAFETEA-LU. Similarly, better and more timely data on freight movements are essential for improved planning. The Commodity Flow Survey, which is still part of BTSâs port- folio, should be sustained and enhanced to meet user requirements. Agenda Setting Aside from the speciï¬c set of vital initiatives undertaken through SHRP 2, the lack of a national prioritized research agenda for highways has been made apparent by the wide variety of research topics being pursued by FHWA, the states, and the UTCs. To some extent, this variety is desir- able. Mission agencies have a responsibility for RD&T to support meet- ing their legal responsibilities. States have their own priorities that they should be encouraged to pursue. Part of the rationale for creating the UTC Program was to encourage and allow discretion for academic researchers to pursue novel ideas that had not been recognized by
Summary Findings and Recommendations 141 FHWA or the states. Even so, the UTC Program has grown to represent 16 percent of all SAFETEA-LUâfunded research, and it is important to maximize the return on this investment. Although the mission agencies have some inï¬uence over the priorities in their own programs, they are not able to match UTC funds to inï¬uence the centers to focus on national priorities. Establishment of communitywide consensus on national high- way research priorities would help focus all highway research programs on the most important areas. FHWA should be given the resources to take the lead in establishing an ongoing process whereby the highway community can set these priorities. CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS Even within current constraints, the federal investment in highway research is a sound one. Publicly funded highway research programs have developed innovations that have resulted in longer-lived assets at lower costs, reduced environmental impacts, saved lives, and improved economic efï¬ciency. Additional innovation will be needed to improve safety, reduce congestion, address environmental and energy concerns, and provide the quality highway system the nationâs citizens expect. Adoption of the above recommendations would provide the nation with an improved program that would yield even greater dividends. These addi- tional payoffs from research are urgently needed to meet the demands being placed on the highway system today and into the future. REFERENCES Abbreviation TRB Transportation Research Board National Highway R&T Partnership. 2002. Highway Research and Technology: The Need for Greater Investment. onlinepubs.trb.org/Onlinepubs/rtforum/HwyRandT.pdf. Accessed Aug. 29, 2008. TRB. 2002. Special Report 268: Surface Transportation Environmental Research: A Long-Term Strategy. Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C. TRB. 2007. Special Report 288: Metropolitan Travel Forecasting: Current Practice and Future Direction. Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, D.C.