From personal travel to trade and commerce, highways form the backbone of the U.S. transportation system. As the traffic volume increases each year, however, and the highway system ages, the challenge of improving this system to meet the growing demands becomes greater, requiring innovation and a willingness to move beyond the status quo. Vital to meeting the infrastructure challenge is launching the long-term, high-risk, and high-payoff research that will yield the necessary breakthrough technologies of tomorrow. A number of new technologies are available today that can improve the safety, efficiency, reliability, and durability of the Nation's highways; effectively deploying both existing and new technologies is key to meeting these challenges.
To meet the challenges that lie ahead, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is refocusing and revitalizing its Infrastructure Research and Technology (R&T) Program to raise the bar on research, technology, and deployment activities. This program represents a new way of doing business for FHWA, increasing emphasis on stakeholder involvement and partnerships. The overall goals of the program are to enhance mobility and productivity, extend the life of pavements and bridges, and improve safety and performance. These goals require four essential investments: information, people, technology, and deployment.
Reliable information is essential to support transportation investment decisions and the development and deployment of new technologies. Managers, technicians, engineers, and others must be equipped to carry out their jobs. Advanced technology and innovative thinking are needed to achieve the technology breakthroughs that will carry us well into this new century. And once these breakthroughs are achieved, deployment efforts are vital to turning innovative research into everyday practices. FHWA's role in accomplishing these essential actions will include providing leadership and national coordination; addressing longer-term, higher risk research; filling critical research gaps; and providing deployment and technical assistance. Realizing the full infrastructure R&T vision, however, will depend upon strong and continuing partnerships with stakeholders.
To share its infrastructure R&T vision with stakeholders, FHWA held an Infrastructure R&T Stakeholder Workshop in Chicago, Illinois, on October 31 and November 1, 2002 (see Appendix C for the workshop agenda). The workshop drew more than 60 representatives from highway agencies, associations and industry, and academia (see Appendix D for the roster of attendees). The workshop was designed to give FHWA an opportunity to listen to stakeholders in order to refine its vision and to build stakeholder commitment to achieving infrastructure innovations.
FHWA is proposing a refocused and revitalized Infrastructure R&T Program to set a strategic direction for developing and deploying breakthrough technologies for highway infrastructure. The proposed program includes the critical elements of information, people, technology, and deployment in the areas of asset management, structures, and pavements. The infrastructure R&T vision white paper (see Appendix A) presents FHWA's preliminary thinking on the structure of the program.
The Infrastructure R&T Program emphasizes stakeholder involvement and partnerships. The entire highway community; Federal, State, and local agencies; national organizations; private industry; academia; and others will have to work together to solve increasingly complex highway infrastructure issues. FHWA is committed to increasing stakeholder involvement in the program.
Before the workshop, FHWA provided the participants with a copy of a white paper, which served as a "straw man" and a point of departure for discussions at the workshop. The paper is but one step in an ongoing and evolving process that included the workshop, a session at the 2003 TRB Annual Meeting, and continuing outreach efforts. FHWA's intent is to create a structured, systematic process that will ensure strong stakeholder participation in all phases of the Infrastructure R&T Program.
Workshop participants heard presentations from FHWA on the Infrastructure R&T Program. Following the presentations the participants were formed into four breakout groups: asset management, structures, pavements, and stakeholder involvement. During the breakout sessions the participants discussed the proposed program and developed observations, conclusions, and recommendations.
The next section briefly describes the groups' discussions.
The four breakout groups met over the afternoon of the first day and morning of the second day. In all, each group met for more than 5 hours.
In the asset management area, stakeholders outlined a vision of promoting new and improved decision making by developing the tools, data, and training necessary to support implementation. The group noted that asset management is a holistic process where decisions cut across asset classes, functions, and even modes. They further indicated that the focus of FHWA's activities should be on supporting the implementation of asset management, as opposed to creating a new decision making framework; the principles are not new, just difficult to implement, especially in their entirety. In answer to the question, "Why are we promoting asset management?," the group indicated that it was to improve customer service.
The group discussed the importance of making information available to support the trade-off analysis required for asset management: The integration of disparate databases, the ability to predict performance, and the availability of highway user and societal costs were seen as important types of information for asset management. Participants were concerned about the cost (e.g., for georeferencing), institutional issues (e.g., who owns the data), and the myriad issues and complexity levels faced by each transportation agency. They also wanted to see reliable, accurate, and rapid methods for collecting data on infrastructure condition. The group highlighted the importance of helping agencies avoid information overload by identifying the key data items and the minimum level of information required to conduct asset management. They suggested that better methods be developed to connect demand, condition, and risk. Also of interest was work to quantify customer satisfaction. In addition, the group discussed making the data elements collected more responsive to the needs of decision makers.
The resounding theme in the "people" focus area centered on expanding the target audience for FHWA's awareness program. The consensus was that the agency had done much in this area, but still had a long way to go. It was suggested that FHWA work to reach its own internal staff, particularly its Division Administrators, the business community, consultants, and legislators. With respect to education and training, FHWA heard that it needed to expand the target audience, again to include departments of transportation (DOTs), consulting firms, academic faculty, other trainers, and students from disciplines in addition to engineering. Recommendations included: identifying alternative training venues (such as the Internet and onsite locations); supporting the development of near-term training programs, certificate programs, and university programs; and providing material for trainers, students, and practitioners. The group also discussed the fact that asset management is multidisciplinary; it therefore is critical to show how the silo knowledge and management systems relate to asset management. There was a suggestion to develop an FHWA internship program where FHWA employees would work at State DOTs.
Technology is the bridge that makes asset management useful. As in the discussions in the information focus area, the group talked about technology to support trade-off analysis. This includes the need to link management systems, incorporate risk analysis in the decision making process, and interface with all the functions in an agency (for example, operations, safety, human resources, and finance). The group proposed that FHWA undertake a program of developing technology for data integration and data sharing that could be applied at a relatively low cost in individual agencies. The stakeholders saw FHWA as uniquely positioned to take on this difficult but important task. It was noted that transportation agencies are not necessarily aware of the tools/technologies currently available. The idea for an FHWA "consumer reports" for tools was raised as a way to fill this gap. There is a perception that FHWA is not taking advantage of the capabilities at its Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) facility with respect to asset management, nor adequately coordinating with the offices of pavement and bridge technologies. The notion that homeland security should be an aspect of the analytical tools was advanced.
Observations on deployment included the suggestion that FHWA should capitalize on one of its unique strengths, its field structure. To accomplish this, the group suggested that FHWA activate an internal deployment program. Significant discussion focused on the importance of identifying options that State and local governments and transportation agencies might explore to institutionalize asset management. It was noted, for example, that in Michigan and Vermont a requirement for asset management was legislated. The group recommended that FHWA develop an executive information system to show the information available and help decision makers make decisions. Finally, the stakeholders talked about demonstrating the benefits of asset management as a means for supporting deployment. The group stressed that the deployment process should include deployment of the asset management approach, not just the tools.
Structures stakeholders stated that goals should be realistic. A reasonable objective timeline should be mapped out. Some participants emphasized that the new R&T approach should not leave incrementalism behind. It was also stressed that a fundamental objective should be to minimize the impact of structures work on highway users. National coordination of current knowledge is needed, such as through a clearinghouse. Fabricators and contractors should be involved, as well as engineering/technology societies. It was suggested that FHWA initiate forums and workshops for industry and public agencies on ready-to-implement technologies and fund travel for State highway participants. There should also be better criteria for R&T project team selection to ensure that the best people are chosen for large projects. Questions raised include looking at whether the proposed long-term bridge performance program is a good use of resources. It was noted that the methodology for measuring the reliability of the intended performance of structures needs to be mapped out (according to the stakeholders, FHWA is probably the only organization that can do this). Developing training for Load and Resistance Factor Design (LRFD) implementation also must be an emphasis. The development of LRFD specifications for new materials, such as fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composites, also must be addressed. When it comes to research, existing structures, facilities, and expertise should be used. And unusual loadings/catastrophic events (both human made and natural) should be categorized.
A national process should be set up for communicating with stakeholders on a regular basis. Stakeholders need to be aware of what research is going on and the status of deployment efforts. An FHWA liaison should be designated for each technology and R&T program. At the same time, FHWA bridge engineers should keep States aware of what is going on with the R&T program. Also, stakeholder involvement should be designed for various stakeholder interests (e.g., urban vs. rural). Finally, FHWA should assist highway agencies in implementing State-developed innovations.
In initial open discussions, participants noted that success demands champions who will develop constituents for the program. A formal process should be set up to communicate the contents and progress of the program to stakeholders. On the information side, data should be collected on the cost and benefits of technologies; this will help the deployment process. State-of-the-art case studies and best practices should be compiled and distributed to help stakeholders make optimal pavement-related decisions.
More structured discussions followed on the proposed framework for the program, the technical contents of the program, and areas needing emphasis.
In the area of program framework or process, the group noted that specific desired outcomes of the program should be defined. Some participants expressed concern as to how the resources, including both funding and effort, would be allocated within the program. A timeframe for transition to the proposed program is needed to maintain stakeholder interest in the proposed new approach. The proposed role of FHWA, including pursuing higher risk, longer term research, filling gaps, and serving a leadership and coordination function was considered appropriate. The process should deal with certain policy barriers so that construction funds could be used for demonstration projects and innovation. To help remove barriers, the group recommended that innovation become an area of emphasis throughout FHWA. Stakeholder involvement needs were passed on to the stakeholder breakout group for their consideration
A number of suggestions were made for the technical side of the program. In the area of design systems, pavement design should be treated as a system of the various component parts, not just structural design or mixture design. Extending the use of local materials is needed in this design system. Better performance-prediction models and traffic-loading prediction procedures are needed. The Long-Term Pavement Performance (LTPP) process and gaps in the database need to be evaluated carefully. Training activities need to address the existing agency and contractor workforce, as well as university curricula for new graduates. Technical areas that need to be added to the program are consideration of pavement management and maintenance and rehabilitation strategies.
The stakeholder group noted that the key to making FHWA's R&T program work is stakeholder involvement. The primary question noted was, "How can we get a durable and lasting process to formalize stakeholder involvement?" Suggestions relating to this process included identifying and inviting other transportation modal participants to be involved, as well as placing more emphasis on education. Reciprocity between modal agencies should be encouraged. Also, stakeholders should have a very structured role.
Participants observed that long-term research is important, but so are intermediate results. Research needs to be coordinated. Also, communicating with stakeholders is important. Practice communities could play a role here. It also was noted that different levels of stakeholders exist: Some are leaders who can define the agenda and support or identify risks, while others are the ones who apply the technology.
Participants also commented that if there is going to be long-term, fundamental research, then FHWA must be the one to do it, because States are losing their internal research capabilities and must depend on universities. A major challenge lies ahead in regard to advancing the infrastructure knowledge base. It was decided that fundamental research was an appropriate goal. Support was expressed for the recommendations made in Highway Research: Systematic Selection and Evaluation Processes Needed for Research Program (General Accounting Office Report GAO-02-573):
The group expressed the opinion that achieving these goals would require the conduct and coordination of research and the ongoing work of TFHRC. Also, more outreach is needed to let people know the results of research.
Finally, it was suggested that stakeholders be divided into three groups: strategic, program, and project.