The Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty's (HEP) research activities support program and policy objectives that help the FHWA create the best transportation system in the world. The research primarily addresses topics associated with comprehensive intermodal and multi-modal transportation planning, enhancement of community and social benefits of highway transportation, and improvements to the quality of the natural and human environment, by reducing highway-related impacts and by protecting and enhancing ecosystems. Additionally, research on the fair and prudent acquisition and management of real property is carried out. Research is categorized under three disciplines and further divided into five offices, Planning, Project Development and Environmental Review, Human Environment, Natural Environment and Real Estate Services.
The FHWA's Planning research focuses on providing quality data, analysis and information to transportation planners and decision-makers. One research area is Transportation Planning Capacity Building where tools and resources are provided for State DOTs, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, rural and small communities, tribal governments and other institutions to plan and fund transportation investments and operations. Other Planning research initiatives support statewide and intermodal planning, safety conscious planning, linking planning to the NEPA process, in addition to operations, forecasting transport demand and system changes, smart growth, and transportation land use.
Balancing concerns for the natural environment while adding value to the community is the focus of the FHWA's Environment research. Areas of exploration include environmental streamlining, noise, air quality and global climate change, wetlands, water quality and ecosystems. Environmental research provides policy development and program assistance for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the environmental review process. Research also supports improving livability through funding transportation projects and activities that that help enable people to live closer to jobs, save time and money, and reduce pollution.
Increasing the effectiveness of the acquisition and management of highway real property interests is the focus of the FHWA's Realty research. Realty develops methodologies, technology, and systems to streamline right-of-way activities. The use of innovative technology is encouraged for property management, outdoor advertising and junkyard control, and access management programs.
President Obama signed into law on December 4, 2015 the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (Pub. L. No. 114-94) – the first federal law in over a decade to provide long-term funding certainty for surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment.
The FAST Act continues without change the broad range of activities eligible under Highway Research and Development, including–activities to improve highway safety; to improve infrastructure integrity; to strengthen transportation planning and environmental decision-making; and to reduce congestion, improve highway operations, and enhance freight productivity. To learn more, please visit HEP's legislation research page.