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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 57· No. 3 > Overcoming Roadblocks to U.S. Innovation

Winter 1994
Vol. 57· No. 3

Overcoming Roadblocks to U.S. Innovation

by Louis Colucci and Robert Bryant

Innovation cartoon The Highway Innovative Technology Evaluation Center (HITEC), established in 1992 to serve as a nationally recognized service center and clearinghouse for evaluating innovative highway technologies, opened for business on January 4, 1994.

The official grand opening ceremony is scheduled for February 10. Congressman Norman Mineta (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation, and Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater have been invited to participate. Congressman Mineta presented the keynote remarks at the 1992 workshop on highway innovation from which the HITEC concept was born.

At the inaugural meeting of the HITEC Executive Committee on May 12, 1993, Jane F. Garvey, deputy administrator of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), called HITEC "the key to restarting the engine of innovation." She also said, "It is a wonderful way to expedite the implementation of new technology into our highway system. Although an enormous undertaking, HITEC is crucial to the future of our highways. At no other time in history has the need for innovation in highways been greater. We must continue to seek ways to provide a better product using fewer resources."

Innovation cartoonHITEC serves as a focal point for evaluating new technologies from both the public and private sectors and also serves to expedite the transfer of these new technologies into operating practice. Technologies evaluated by HITEC might include a new material to extend pavement life, a new piece of construction equipment, a new maintenance process, or a new bridge design feature.

HITEC will accept only those technologies (products, tools, and processes) for which research has been essentially completed and there are prototypes ready for adoption and for which there are no established standards or specifications. Where more research is needed, cases will be referred to existing programs, such as the Small Business Innovation Research Program and the NCHRP IDEA program. Where standard technical acceptance already exists, cases will be referred to programs such as the National Transportation Product Evaluation Program of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) for comparative performance testing.

HITEC will help tear down some of the roadblocks to innovation in highway projects. Harvey M. Bernstein, president of the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF), and J. Peter Kissinger, director of Highway Innovative Research for CERF, explained some of these roadblocks in an article that was published by the Construction Business Review. "Presently, if an entrepreneur or manufacturer decides to develop a product for the U.S. highway system, the road to the marketplace is pitted with detours and roadblocks. The odds against getting the product considered and adopted by all the state and local jurisdictions is staggering. In fact, the more you know about the diverse design and construction industry, the less willing you will be to tackle the product acceptance process. The institutional barriers are too numerous, the market too fragmented, the level of reviews and approvals too diverse, and the return on investment too small ...

"Unfortunately, the design and construction industry, which must play a key role in rebuilding our deteriorating infrastructure, has reached a point in a litigious society where the uncertainty of product liability charges and least cost contracts result in low risk designs rewarding practitioners for stability rather than innovation."

The benefits of HITEC include:

  • Innovators can more quickly and easily get peer review of their products and access to the agencies.
  • The agencies derive savings from use of the new products.
  • The agencies can reduce their product acceptance committees and associated testing.
  • The concept brings the users together to share information. This is already in evidence in AASHTO's newly formed National Transportation Product Evaluation Program that is establishing regional testing centers for comparative performance testing of materials, such as traffic paints.
  • The HITEC concept builds on the experiences of similar programs underway in Canada, France, and other countries.
  • The concept establishes a partnering relationship with industry.

Diagram of the HITEC Process.

HITEC is being administered and coordinated by CERF, part of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and will be partially funded initially under a four-year cooperative agreement between CERF and FHWA. HITEC is guided by an executive committee that includes public and private leaders of the highway community. The HITEC concept has already been suggested for establishing similar programs in the environmental and high-rise building technologies.

Although HITEC has a national focus, it is not a federal program. HITEC's goal is to become self-supporting. HITEC will charge fees for both the application process and evaluation plan development. These are funded by the applicant. It is expected that the initial screening fee will be less than $5,000, with the initial evaluation plan costing $20,000. The actual field or laboratory evaluation costs may well range from $100,000 to $1 million; the higher end of the range will be the exception.

Substantial assistance is expected from the private sector. When appropriate, funds from government programs, such as Section 6005 of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, will also be used. The goal of HITEC is to build new alliances and consortia between government at all levels, private industry, research facilities, and other key elements of the highway community.

Innovators, private companies, and public entities with new products and services will work with technical panels organized by HITEC to plan and implement the necessary real-world evaluations to demonstrate to the highway user community how the product or service performs, where it would be applicable, and what benefits it will provide if used.

After the evaluation process is completed on each technology, the technical evaluation team in conjunction with the HITEC staff will prepare a report. If the report is favorable, that is the product or process meets the technical requirements of the evaluation plan, then the report will be issued for public use. It is hoped that the favorable report will lead to:

  • Rapid adoption of the technology by highway agencies.
  • Enhanced product acceptance by the highway community.
  • Further marketing by the applicant promoting technical acceptance.

The favorable report by HITEC is not an endorsement; it is a consensus of technical acceptance and integrity as claimed by the developer.

Unfavorable reports will not be released to the public. They will be reviewed confidentially by the technical team and HITEC staff with the applicant for further development, refinement, or action on the technology.

As stated by Bernstein and Kissinger, "By encouraging our industry and federal government to support and contribute to the establishment of nationally accepted test centers for innovation, we can open many of the doors blocking our path to the marketplace. We can establish a process for demonstrating the value of innovation nationwide, and thus foster the implementation of new materials, products, and methods, while simultaneously improving the global competitive position of our nation."

For more information on HITEC, please contact:

Mr. J. Peter Kissinger

Director, Highway Innovative Research

Civil Engineering Research Foundation

1015 15th Street N.W., Suite 600

Washington, D.C. 20005

Phone: (202) 842-0555

Fax: (202) 789-2943

Louis Colucci is a research engineer in the Office of Advanced Research, Office of the (FHWA) Associate Administrator for Research and Development, at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Va.

Robert Bryant is the editor of Public Roads. He is employed by Avalon Integrated Services as the editor of Public Roads.

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