The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology

Administration and Management , Policy , Research (about research)
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This is TRB Special Report #261.

The Research and Technology Coordinating Committee (RTCC) was convened in 1991 by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies to provide a continuing, independent assessment of the
Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) research and technology (R&T) program. Funding for the committee is provided by FHWA.

A previous RTCC report describes research, development, and technology transfer in the highway industry (TRB 1994). Since preparing that report, the RTCC has examined many specific aspects of highway R&T, some at the request of FHWA and some under its own initiative and with FHWA’s support. Much has happened to the structure and funding of highway R&T since 1994, especially as a result of passage of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in June 1998. TEA-21 led to increased awareness among the highway industry that highway R&T is a shared responsibility and that federal highway R&T cannot address all highway transportation issues or serve all potential industry customers. This awareness has brought focus to the need for improved coordination among the various highway R&T activities, an idea this committee has supported in the past.

TEA-21 also called for TRB to establish a study committee to determine the “goals, purposes, research agenda and projects, administrative structure, and fiscal needs for a new strategic highway research program.” That committee proposed a Future Strategic Highway Research Program (F-SHRP) modeled afterthe first SHRP. This program would be focused, time constrained, management driven, and designed to complement other existing highway research programs.

The passage of TEA-21 influenced the formation of the National Highway R&T Partnership Forum in late 1998 by FHWA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and TRB. The purpose of the forum was “to engage the entire highway transportation community in the identification of highway R&T needs and to address the benefits to be realized by forming partnerships to fulfill those needs.” Participation in the partnership effort was completely voluntary but ultimately involved hundreds of individuals and more than 160 organizations. The RTCC assigned a committee member to monitor each of the forum’s working groups. A summary of R&T needs prepared by the forum is included in Appendix B.

As these activities were getting under way, the committee decided to examine whether the focus and activities of the federal highway R&T program are appropriate in light of the needs of the nation’s highway system and the roles and activities of other highway R&T programs. The RTCC worked closely with the F-SHRP committee while carrying out this analysis; indeed, the F-SHRP committee had four members in common with the RTCC. By agreement of the National Academies, the two committees shared draft materials. This report presents the findings resulting from the RTCC’s examination of federal highway R&T and a proposal for a change in direction aimed at strengthening the overall R&T enterprise. The report was prepared as a companion to the F-SHRP committee’s report [Strategic Highway Research: Saving Lives, Reducing Congestion, Improving Quality of Life (TRB 2001)] and is directed toward key federal highway R&T decision makers (Congress and FHWA), as well as the stakeholders in federalhighway R&T.

The term “federal highway R&T program” is used in this report to refer to the combined responsibilities and actions of Congress, the administration, and FHWA in funding federal highway research, determining research needs, setting research program priorities, and executing the research program. Although the recommendations in this report are aimed primarily at FHWA’s R&T program,they are discussed in the context of other programs within the highway R&T enterprise—the state R&T programs, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, and private-sector research. These other programs focus on highway infrastructure issues and are supported by highway industry stakeholders. The committee recognizes that there are other research programs directly related to the highway system, especially those of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In addition, research undertaken by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Defense involves topics of interest to highway agencies and researchers.

The recommendations in this report are aimed at the current focus of FHWA’s R&T program. This focus is similar to that of the other highway R&T programs. Nevertheless, the committee believes there are significant
opportunities for fundamental, long-term research that would be beneficial to the national R&T enterprise and that FHWA, as the mission agency responsible for the nation’s highway program, is well positioned to both promote and undertake. Although this report presents recommendations that involve some changes in FHWA’s program, it also recognizes FHWA’s past R&T accomplishments and suggests the continuation of many of the agency’s activities in support of the nation’s highway R&T programs.

Organization Category:
Non-Profit (AASHTO, TKNs, TRB, etc.)
Organization Name:
Transportation Research Board
United States of America
District of Columbia

Document Type: Survey

Created at: 10/13/2021 07:10 PM By: Sue Sillick

Last Modified at: 10/13/2021 07:10 PM By: Sue Sillick