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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Focus > December 2002 > Infrastructure for the 21st Century
December 2002Publication Number: FHWA-RD-03-013

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Infrastructure for the 21st Century

The opportunity to envision the future of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Infrastructure Research and Technology (R&T) program brought nearly 60 representatives from highway agencies, AASHTO, industry, academia, and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) to Chicago in October for the FHWA Infrastructure R&T Stakeholder workshop. The workshop's goal was to share FHWA's vision for Infrastructure for the 21st Century, listen to stakeholders in order to refine the vision, and build stakeholder commitment to achieving infrastructure innovations. "In the next 10 to 20 years, we have a huge job as a highway community in replacing bridges and pavements. This is our window of opportunity to introduce the next generation of technology," said King Gee of FHWA.

The goals of FHWA's Infrastructure R&T program are to enhance mobility and productivity, extend the life of pavements and bridges, and improve safety and performance. Achieving these goals involves investing in:

Information-Provide reliable information to support transportation investment decisions and the development and deployment of new technologies.

People-Provide and equip those persons working in both the public and private sectors.

Technology-Provide advanced technology to design, construct, operate, preserve, and manage infrastructure.

Deployment-Support and promote deployment of advanced technology and innovative practices.

FHWA's role includes providing leadership and national coordination; addressing longer term, higher risk research; filling critical research and technology gaps; and providing technology delivery, deployment, and technical assistance.

Workshop participants assessed FHWA Infrastructure program proposals in the areas of asset management, bridges and structures, and pavements. The vision for FHWA's asset management program is to create a decision-making paradigm that is holistic, based on fact, and driven by return on investment. Proposals include:

  • Establishing data collection protocols.
  • Assessing the costs and benefits of implementing alternative data collection and integration strategies.
  • Continuing to increase general awareness of asset management through such means as training and distributing educational material.
  • Working with universities to educate students.
  • Developing next generation breakthrough management systems.
  • Identifying innovative ways of using management systems to track the real-life performance of assets.
  • Continuing efforts to develop benefit-cost applications.

FHWA also proposed that deployment of asset management tools and technologies be accomplished through pilot testing in State laboratories and the establishment of a Lead State program.

The vision for FHWA's structures program is to get out in front of the bridge deterioration curve and stay there. FHWA's structures proposals are aimed at reducing the number of deficient bridges and implementing more durable bridges. Actions outlined include:

  • Establishing a long-term bridge performance program.
  • Continuing to emphasize the development and use of nondestructive evaluation technologies and methods.
  • Developing new generations of bridge systems that employ high-performance materials to achieve long-term use.
  • Developing and providing comprehensive life-cycle decision support systems.
  • Developing technologies to guard against national security threats.
  • Broadening the Innovative Bridge Research and Construction Program to serve as an important mechanism to promote new technology.

The vision for FHWA's pavements program is pavements that meet our customers' needs and are safe, cost-effective, long lasting, and can be effectively maintained. Activities proposed include:

  • Updating college engineering curricula to include the state of the practice, as well as state-of-the-art and developing technologies.
  • Further improving design approaches, including moving toward a fully mechanistically-based design procedure.
  • Continuing to enhance and implement the Superpave design system.
  • Further developing and implementing performance-related specifications.
  • Developing tools and techniques for the use of warranty contracts.
  • Minimizing traffic disruptions due to road construction and rehabilitation.
  • Adopting tools to ensure smoother pavements.
  • Providing test and evaluation projects, as well as demonstration projects.

What did the stakeholders represented at the workshop say? In the asset management area, stakeholders stressed the importance of integrating disparate databases; developing predictability models; and estimating highway user costs. Other suggestions included establishing an Asset Management Institute and incorporating the use of tools that specifically link individual management systems to asset management.

Suggestions for bridge and structures R&T included setting short- and long-term objectives for achieving the bridge of the future; expanding the R&T vision to include rehabilitation methods; and emphasizing the importance of minimizing the impact on the traveling public. Mal Kerley of the Virginia Department of Transportation noted that, "FHWA must continue and emphasize its role in training." It was also suggested that FHWA take a leadership role in collecting and disseminating research in progress and research results from all sources.

Pavements stakeholders emphasized that specific outcomes for the R&T program should be defined. Emphasis areas should include pavement system design, performance prediction models, traffic prediction, and maintenance and rehabilitation. The Long Term Pavement Performance program data gaps should also be filled in.

Participants also examined the process for stakeholder involvement in FHWA's Infrastructure R&T program. "Stakeholders implement results and generate program support," noted Byron Lord of FHWA. Three levels of stakeholder involvement were recommended: strategic, programmatic, and project. These levels would encompass such roles as providing merit review of research and technologies at the project level, establishing criteria for creating R&T program areas at the programmatic level, and serving as a form of a steering committee at the strategic level.

FHWA is currently examining its Infrastructure R&T proposals and clarifying and refocusing them as necessary to reflect the feedback provided at the workshop. A report on the workshop is forthcoming. You can learn more about the Infrastructure R&T program at TRB Annual Meeting Session No. 284, which is scheduled for January 13 at 1:30 p.m. at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. For more information, contact FHWA at 202-366-8027 (email:

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Updated: 02/20/2015

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