National Academies Press: OpenBook

Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018 (2018)

Chapter: 1. SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE

Page 2
Suggested Citation:"1. SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25315.
×
Page 2
Page 3
Suggested Citation:"1. SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25315.
×
Page 3
Page 4
Suggested Citation:"1. SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25315.
×
Page 4
Page 5
Suggested Citation:"1. SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25315.
×
Page 5
Page 6
Suggested Citation:"1. SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25315.
×
Page 6
Page 7
Suggested Citation:"1. SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25315.
×
Page 7
Page 8
Suggested Citation:"1. SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25315.
×
Page 8
Page 9
Suggested Citation:"1. SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25315.
×
Page 9

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

2 SYNOPSIS OF KEY FINDINGS AND ADVICE Two important themes that emerged from the summer meeting concern FHWA’s continued efforts to program its RD&T in a strategic manner and to partner with, and leverage the research of, other U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and federal agencies, state transportation departments, foreign transportation authorities, universities, and the private sector. RTCC believes that FHWA’s RD&T prioritization initiatives, including rebaselining and identifying priority research areas distilled from other agency and USDOT strategic documents, will be helpful for identifying candidate areas of research emphasis. In future meetings, however, RTCC would like to learn more about how FHWA makes research programming choices in the context of the overall mission of its RD&T program. For example, does the agency view its RD&T mission as filling in knowledge gaps not addressed by other highway research and/or to address research needs that cut across domains, as in the case of freight, connected vehicles, and urban transportation? Guided at the highest level by a well-articulated mission, FHWA can then make more strategic choices—aided by tools such as rebaselining—about its research priorities. The importance of partnerships is multi-fold, providing an opportunity to not only leverage limited RD&T resources but also to bring to bear the perspective and expertise of multiple parties on issues that cut across domains. As vehicles become more automated and connected and as new urban mobility options are introduced, many of the longstanding distinctions among the modes, and the modal agencies that serve them, are blurring. During the summer meeting, the committee was impressed by the description of work being furthered through FHWA’s partnerships, particularly with state transportation agencies and increasingly with the private sector. Partnerships with entities from other modes and domains, however, were not evident, even though the similarity of issues facing agencies like the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (USDOE) would suggest that more partnering would be opportune. RTCC is thus looking forward to its next meeting with FHWA, which will be held in conjunction with a meeting of the Transit Research Analysis Committee (TRAC), which advises FTA on its RD&T program. OVERVIEW OF MEETING BRIEFINGS AND DISCUSSIONS As you know, one of FHWA’s strategic goals is to enhance the safety and performance of the nation’s transportation system through research and the accelerated development and deployment of innovative technologies and practices. Because Associate Administrator Kalla was meeting with RTCC for the first time in his new capacity, I had asked him to begin the meeting by offering his thoughts on possible subjects for this report and future RTCC reports that could be helpful to him and his team in furthering this important strategic goal. He provided his thoughts in the form of several questions to the committee, which are summarized in Box 1. Box 1: Questions Asked by FHWA’s R&T Leadership Team • Can RTCC provide techniques, processes, and procedures to assist the R&T Leadership Team in developing a strategic research program? • Are there ways for FHWA to determine that it is doing the right research?

3 • Are there recommendations on a more formal process for conducting the FHWA R&T Performance Evaluation Program and implementing lessons learned? • Does RTCC have any recommendations on how the results of evaluations can be used to improve future research? • Are there better ways to measure success? • What are the performance measures that show the impact of research? • How can FHWA show the value of research? • How do we leverage our partnerships to provide mutual benefit and best value to the nation? • Are there recommendations on FHWA research related to freight? • Are there recommendations on future focus of the Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) program? • Are there emerging issues that should be incorporated into next authorization? Following the winter meeting, we had also asked Associate Administrator Kalla and his team to orient the summer meeting’s presentations around FHWA’s: • Processes for ensuring strategic research, • Progress with research performance evaluation, • Efforts to develop and leverage RD&T partnerships, and • Experience with the Exploratory Advanced Research Program. In addition, the committee asked for briefings on FHWA’s work on specific RD&T topics, including: • Rural highways, • Cooperative automated driving systems, and • Freight transportation. Overviews of the briefings on each of these topics are provided next, along with a synopsis of ensuing discussions. The report concludes with RTCC’s general observations and advice, which together with the observations made by committee members during the meeting discussions are intended to be responsive to many of Associate Administrator Kalla’s questions. Processes for Ensuring Strategic Research In previous meetings, RTCC was briefed on approaches by FHWA to develop a strategic research plan. In its January 2015 letter report, RTCC commented on an apparent lack of external input to the plan and encouraged FHWA to share the emerging plan with its customers and stakeholders and elicit their feedback to inform the plan’s continued development. In its September 2016 letter report, RTCC noted the progress made by FHWA, especially through its “Top Three” initiative, in reaching out to state transportation departments to learn more about the key challenges they face. The committee expressed concern that budget constraints might make it difficult for FHWA to follow up on these challenges with specific research projects. It took note, however, that the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 requires annual modal research planning that has the potential to focus priorities and align them better with RD&T budgets.

4 Craig Thor, Senior R&T Legislative and Budget Analyst, briefed the committee on FAST Act requirements pertaining to research planning and prioritization. He reported that while the act does not reduce total RD&T funding levels, it does reduce the agency’s research programming flexibility due to designations and reprogramming of some research monies to fund deployments. He pointed out, however, that the FAST Act is largely free of earmarked research. While the act designates that research be done in some areas, it provides FHWA with discretion to choose the projects and program the research over a 4-year obligation period, which allows for more strategic programming choices. Thor explained how this discretion, coupled with a multi-year obligation authority, has prompted FHWA to employ a more strategic approach to setting research priorities. FHWA has initiated a “rebaselining” process, whereby senior staff have consulted other strategic documents within the agency and USDOT such as the Top Three initiative, Joint Safety Strategic Plan, the Beyond 2045 report, and USDOT’s and FHWA’s overarching strategic plans, to identify critical and cross-cutting issues that have formed the basis for a recommended set of Priority Research and Technology Areas (PTRAs). The recommended PRTAs are connected automation, data driven technologies for performance management and decision making, accelerating project delivery, safety, durability, resiliency of transportation systems, and public–private partnerships and innovation. Having identified candidate PRTAs, Thor pointed to the practical challenges of using them to guide the agency’s research agenda. He explained how FHWA’s individual program offices develop their own RD&T plans accompanied by requests for funds, resulting in several dozen plans that if implemented would require funding levels far in excess of available budgets. Prioritizing among these office plans has proven to be difficult, even with PRTA guidance. While the FAST Act’s requirement that each modal agency develop an annual research plan compels prioritization, each program office has its own methods of identifying research needs, including its own means of consulting external parties. FHWA continues to search for effective and transparent ways to prioritize across program offices. Discussion RTCC members praised FHWA’s RD&T leadership team for their efforts to identify strategic priorities through rebaselining and the PRTA process. Committee members also recognized the inherent challenge of setting priorities for the agency while paying respect to each program office’s views about their own needs. Limited research funds make such strategic prioritization necessary. Another reason for strategic prioritization is to ensure that problems that do not fall exclusively within the domain of any one program unit are not systematically minimized or neglected. An agency-level or even USDOT-level prioritization process is essential to ensuring that such cross- cutting issues are recognized and addressed. In some cases, such as with research on automated and connected vehicles, this may require coordination with other agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, FTA, and USDOE. While solutions to FHWA’s strategic prioritization challenge did not emerge from the meeting discussions, committee members observed that FHWA’s RD&T office should consider exploring means used by other agencies and organizations to prioritize their research portfolios. Some members noted that the prioritization process should not be allowed to become too rigid so that it risks too much prescription, which could preclude the availability of funds to address unanticipated problems that may arise and necessitate research. FHWA staff indicated they should be able to share

5 more about their strategic prioritization process during RTCC’s winter meeting, which committee members are anticipating and believe will be very helpful. RD&T Performance Evaluation In recent letter reports, RTCC has encouraged FHWA to formally evaluate its research projects, and has observed that FHWA has made considerable progress in doing so through the creation of an ongoing research evaluation program. John Moulden, National Partnership Program Manager, provided an update on the agency’s R&T Program Evaluation initiative. He explained that the program’s purpose and benefits are multi-dimensional, providing insight into means of identifying and defining candidate topics for research, performing research more effectively, and demonstrating the value of the research by measuring impacts and communicating them to stakeholders. These formal evaluations, he noted, are critical to informing the allocation of research funds and building external support for the overall program. According to Moulden, FHWA has completed 11 evaluations that span projects of interest to a number of program offices, including operations, policy, infrastructure, planning, and safety. Ten additional project evaluations are under way or planned. He reported how the initial evaluation has surfaced a number of insights on how to ensure that research is targeted to the right problems, performed more effectively, and more likely to produce usable results. He cited examples from the evaluated projects that supported several recommendations that: • Deployment potential be considered upfront. Some evaluated projects led to products that had little potential for deployment because of their cost and complexity and the lack of needed training by highway personnel. • Collaborative research, especially with users, be emphasized as a means of improving outcomes and impacts. He pointed to evaluated projects that involved state and industry collaborations that bolstered the credibility of the products and identified implementation risks early so they could be addressed during the research. He also identified some projects where a lack of collaboration may have hindered implementation. • Evaluation be incorporated into the project plans. Several projects proved difficult to evaluate because no process was established for tracking deployments of the research results. • Promotion and communication be made part of the implementation plan. The evaluations have revealed uses of research products that were not being fully recognized by FHWA (such as the varied uses of the National Household Travel Survey [NHTS]) and that could have been widened by giving more attention to promoting and communicating the value of the research. • Successful RD&T projects should not be viewed as one-off activities, but updated and replicated when the need arises. He pointed to the widespread use of the NHTS, questioning the lengthy period of time that was allowed to pass before it was updated to the benefit of its many users. Moulden noted that experience with these early evaluations has also shed light on some of the barriers to evaluation, including the challenge of getting desired levels of cooperation from project leaders. That problem, he observed, can be overcome through better explanations of the constructive

6 purpose of the evaluations. He also expressed some concern about the length of time that it takes to publish the results of the evaluations, which can hinder communication of the value of the research. So far only seven of the completed evaluations have been published. He also noted that the program is in need of more effective means of sampling projects to be evaluated. The evaluation program has criteria for identifying projects that are good candidates for review, including the potential to obtain data for the conduct of the evaluations. The emphasis on data availability is important, but it can also lead to the systematic oversight of some projects that are short on data. Discussion Committee members were pleased to see that FHWA has made marked progress in developing and executing an evaluation program that is leading to insights that will help with future research programming and project design and increase the potential for high quality research that produces usable results. Committee members recognized that FHWA has a limited budget for such evaluations, but observed that reviews might also be scheduled at the mid-course of some projects to help identify those that should be restructured or ended. The committee noted how some other transportation research programs, such as the National Highway Cooperative Research Program (NCHRP), have such mid-course reviews built into the process (in the NCHRP’s case by using expert panels to oversee the work) and that FHWA may want to explore options for introducing evaluations at different stages of the project life cycle. It appears the program evaluations are providing FHWA with valuable insights for identifying fruitful research topics and more effective means of conducting the research, such as through collaborations with users. Nevertheless, committee members expressed concern about the difficulty the RD&T office has encountered in publishing and disseminating the results of the evaluations. While there may be reluctance by the agency’s public affairs division to communicate evaluation results that are not favorable in all regards, the evaluation program’s credibility is enhanced by openness, and an excessive sensitivity to unfavorable findings could hinder the communication of positive results as well. The committee members noted their continued interest in being updated on this important program and in FHWA’s progress in using and communicating the evaluation results. During the peer review of this letter report, two of the reviewers questioned whether FHWA has plans to strengthen its data collection and analysis in support of its evaluation program; for instance, through tracking of citations, report downloads, and website clicks. During future updates of the evaluation program, the committee would be interested in learning more about any data collection and analysis plans along these lines. Developing and Leveraging RD&T Partnerships Jack Jernigan, R&T Team Director, provided an overview of FHWA’s RD&T partnerships. He emphasized that FHWA’s strongest partners have long been, and continue to be, state transportation departments. The federal–aid State Planning and Research (SP&R) program provides an ongoing mechanism for research partnership, both with FHWA and among states, through pool-funded activities. He noted that more than 130 pool-funded projects are active and more than 300 have been completed. FHWA also partners with states through the NCHRP—programmed using a pooled share of SP&R funds—and through liaison with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO’s) Research Advisory Committee.

7 Jernigan also discussed the University Transportation Centers (UTC) program, which is managed by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R). OST-R consults FHWA in reviewing proposals for UTCs, but does not have a role in planning projects once a UTC has been selected. He reported, however, that FHWA is working to improve its coordination with UTCs. He noted that state DOTs will often influence the selection of UTC projects. This influence can provide an opportunity for FHWA to leverage its strong partnerships with states to coordinate UTC and FHWA research. Jernigan also explained how FHWA engages with other modal agencies through the USDOT RD&T Planning Team and through joint planning for research to address certain cross-cutting topics such as human factors, climate change, intelligent transportation systems, and connected and automated vehicles. The FAST Act’s requirements for annual modal research plans has led to more coordination among modal agencies, but mostly at an administrative level to avoid duplicative work. Finally, Jernigan noted a number of international platforms for collaboration, including INFRAVATION (Infrastructure plus Innovation), which is multi-national pooled fund program, coordinated “twinning” projects with the European Commission, and the International Transportation Pooled Fund Program. Discussion Committee members commended FHWA on its efforts to leverage UTC research, which represents an important share of the country’s publicly funded transportation research portfolio. Some committee members did raise concern, however, that the FAST Act’s authorization of more than $75 million for UTC research may be discouraging the National Science Foundation (NSF) from awarding grants to certain transportation research proposals, such as for bridge- and structure-related research. FHWA should consider reaching out to NSF, even if informally, to ensure that highway- related research remains part of its funded portfolio. While noting that the USDOT R&T Planning Committee provides a mechanism for ensuring against duplication, committee members expressed concern about the lack of more active coordination and collaboration among the agencies at the project level, particularly on cross-cutting issues. Such coordination should extend not only to the modal agencies, but also to other federal agencies such as the Office of Vehicle Technology in USDOE. The committee would return to this point later in its deliberations when discussing plans for its winter meeting, which is expected to involve a joint meeting with TRB’s TRAC. Exploratory Advanced Research RTCC has long supported high-risk research that has a longer-term orientation and seeks innovative solutions to problems, while recognizing that FHWA’s research portfolio must also place a heavy emphasis on applied problem-solving research. When highway funding levels are falling or stagnant, innovation becomes even more important to maximize the benefit and productivity of highway investments. RTCC has thus requested frequent updates on FHWA’s EAR program, which scans developments in other fields and in basic research as a means of identifying for funding novel concepts that would otherwise be overlooked by highway researchers. David Kuehn, Team Director/Program Manager, reported that EAR is now 10 years old and during that period has conducted more than 200 early stage investigations of candidate topics, which has resulted in 35 research investments. He explained how the EAR program is comprised of stages.

8 The first stage consists of an initial investigation that looks broadly for potential advances in science and engineering that could benefit highway transportation. The second stage involves engaging and shaping investments in those topics that appear most promising. The third stage involves transitioning the results from the investigation by using tools to help document and understand the results and seeking out interested parties who would be willing to support a continued innovation effort. To illustrate the process, Kuehn provided an in-depth review of a concept—agent-based modeling—that was identified through initial scouting. He explained how a scoping workshop and initial investments by EAR suggest that agent-based modeling, which is used in others fields such as public health and marine fisheries management, has the potential to aid in traffic operations planning by simulating the actions of individual drivers when operating in traffic. Kuehn believes that EAR’s agent-based modeling project provides a compelling story about how the program can produce results whose impacts will continue to grow. He noted, however, that other EAR projects also have compelling stories, and the challenge he faces is in producing those stories, which requires substantial staff time and resources. Discussion Committee members observed that agent-based modeling is a good example of how advanced, exploratory research holds the promise of large payoffs. They pointed out how this project demonstrates how the EAR multi-stage process works in identifying candidate topics, supporting them, and transitioning them to stakeholders. They agreed with Kuehn about the importance of developing compelling stories, and recognized that doing so requires choices to be made about how to devote resources to this purpose. The general sense of committee members was that EAR staff should not try to develop stories for all concepts that are pursued, but rather to focus on the most compelling ones. The high-risk, high-reward nature of the program means that not all projects will be “home runs,” and thus only a few good stories need to be developed to demonstrate the value of the program. Committee members also commented that the focus of the storytelling should be on the concepts themselves and their promise, and not on the EAR process itself. They observed that the technology selection and shepherding process can be described on the website so that it does not distract from the vital message. Rural Highway Research In testimony and speeches, USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao has pointed to administration policy priorities for promoting rural initiatives. Accordingly, RTCC requested a brief overview of FHWA’s rural RD&T activities. Hari Kalla and his team compiled a listing of more than 50 RD&T projects recently completed or estimated to be completed over the next 2 years to inform the work of a number of FHWA program offices, from policy to safety to infrastructure and operations. A sampling of the subject matter includes the following: • Regional planning and economic development, • Causes of crashes on two-lane rural roads, • Local and rural road safety planning, • Rural access performance measurement, • Impacts of automation on rural areas, and • Responsive traffic management.

9 While Kalla did not elaborate on individual projects, he noted that FHWA has long had a rural component to its RD&T, as evident from the number of projects in the listing. He acknowledged that the agency does not have a strategic plan or roadmap for guiding its rural research. He observed, however, that RTCC’s request that he identify FHWA research relevant to rural highways was a valuable exercise, revealing the degree to which rural issues are being addressed. Discussion The committee was impressed by the variety and number of projects in FHWA’s research portfolio that address matters pertaining to rural highways and the communities they serve. Having developed this list, committee members noted that FHWA should make use of it for identifying research topics that are missing and may be of interest to rural highway owners and users. As an example, one committee member pointed to the need of state DOTs, rural counties, and local communities with limited ability to provide matching funds needed to pay for re-decking and replacing deficient bridges. Research could be undertaken to identify low-cost re-decking and replacement options, which could be particularly valuable in rural settings where disruption to the service of a single bridge can have devastating effects because of a lack of redundancy. Committee members pointed to AASHTO’s rural research needs workshop as an opportunity for FHWA to keep abreast of rural highway issues. Freight Research Crystal Jones briefed RTCC on FHWA’s freight transportation research. She reported on several current research initiatives in the areas of performance measurement, urban freight movement, truck size and weight, truck parking, border crossings, and freight capacity building. She also discussed emerging technologies and trends that may influence freight transportation trends and patterns in the near future, including truck platooning, autonomous trucks, drone delivery, and 3-D printing. Jones pointed to a number of research needs that FHWA has identified. These include the need for better techniques for estimating the public benefits conferred by freight transportation projects, calculating the contribution of truck traffic to congestion, and including international trade estimates in landside transportation planning. She also noted that more work is needed to understand the potential for emerging technologies to increase the capacity of highway lanes dedicated to trucks, develop physical alternatives for separating car and truck traffic, and synchronize infrastructure improvements with freight transportation demand. Discussion RTCC members were pleased to see the breadth of freight research topics being addressed at FHWA, but also noted that there are many outstanding issues that will tax the agency’s ability to pursue them all. The committee observed that freight is a good example of a research topic that requires coordination and collaboration across program offices and modal agencies because of the many cross-cutting issues in areas such as intermodal connectivity, automation, safety, and urban traffic operations. Although the committee did not have recommendations specific to FHWA’s freight research portfolio, the general advice in this report about the importance of developing and leveraging partnerships is especially applicable to this general research topic.

Next: 2. GENERAL ADVICE AND NEXT STEPS »
Research and Technology Coordinating Committee Letter Report: November 9, 2018 Get This Book
×
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

A November 9, 2018 report from TRB's Research and Technology Coordinating Committee (RTCC) to the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provides the committee’s reaction to the methods used by the Office of Research, Development, and Technology (RD&T) for ensuring strategic research, evaluating the impact of its research projects, and developing and leveraging research and technology partnerships. The report also describes the agency’s Exploratory Advanced Research program, research on rural highway and freight-related topics, and partnerships on automated and connected vehicles.

The RTCC’s charge is to monitor and review FHWA’s research and technology activities and to provide strategic, policy-level advice on topical priorities, processes, and strategies to accelerate the adoption of innovation. In this capacity, it advises the agency on setting a research agenda and coordinating highway research with states, universities, and other partners; strategies to accelerate the deployment and adoption of innovation; and areas where more research may be needed.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!