There are many transportation research programs, each with distinct focus and characteristics. To strengthen your chances of success in being funded, this chapter is intended to help you consider the characteristics of the research you would like to see funded. Research characteristics are important for two reasons: (1) understanding the specific characteristics of your research will help you identify which research programs are the best fit for your research statement, and (2) addressing these characteristics in your research statement will increase your chances of selection. Important characteristics to consider when writing a research statement include geographic relevance, transportation mode or topic, funding required, urgency, type of research needed, and partnership and cost-sharing interests.

Geographic Relevance

How widespread is the problem you are trying to address? Is it experienced in countries around the world (i.e., intersection design questions or air quality issues)? Is it strictly a problem in the United States (i.e., how to meet U.S. DOT planning requirements)? Is it shared by a region or several organizations (i.e., deicing concerns or design in seismic zones)? Or is it an even more specific problem that exists only in a small number of locations (i.e., specific species or geology)? 

Geographic relevance will affect the programs to which you submit your research statement, and will also affect the details that need to be included in the statement. National research programs, such as the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, focus on research statements that address problems experienced in a majority of the states. However, a research statement focused on a more localized problem while explaining how the research product could benefit a national audience can be successful.

Transportation Mode or Topic

If your research focuses on a specific mode of transportation, your decision about the funding source may be simplified, because many research programs focus on such modes. If, on the other hand, your research need focuses on policy, administration, or other non-modal transportation issues, the appropriate program may be less clear-cut. In this case, contacting potential research program staff may be necessary.

Funding Required

Research programs vary widely in the maximum amount of money provided for each project. It is important to understand the funding-level guidelines and limitations of a research program when considering a research statement submittal. Proposing a $400,000 project to a program that funds projects of $100,000 or less will not get your research statement funded.


Research programs vary in their time frame for delivery. Finding a research program that matches the urgency of your research statement is critical. In some programs, it may take up to three years from the submission of a research statement to publish a research report. Other programs address needs that can be met within six months.

Type of Research Needed

The term research is used very broadly in this website because the work conducted in the interest of advancing the transportation profession cuts across a number of activities. The Code of Federal Regulations (23 CFR 420.203) states what research can include:

  • Research means a systematic controlled inquiry involving analytical and experimental activities which primarily seek to increase the understanding of underlying phenomena. Research can be basic or applied.
  • Applied research means the study of phenomena relating to a specific known need in connection with the functional characteristics of a system; the primary purpose of this kind of research is to answer a question or solve a problem.
  • Basic research means the study of phenomena whose specific application has not been identified; the primary purpose of this kind of research is to increase knowledge.
  • Research Development and Technology activity means a basic or applied research, development, or technology transfer project or study.

Transportation research can be all the types of research mentioned above—for example testing materials for transportation infrastructure, a statistical analysis of large data sets, or identifying the public’s response to rising gas prices. Applied research exists somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, using fundamental research to solve transportation problems.

Partnerships and Opportunities for Cost Sharing

Some programs require cost sharing or a local match. The selection of your project may require that your research statement include information on where additional funding is available. For other research programs, cost sharing may not be required but could enhance the project’s chances for success.