Skip to contentUnited States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration FHWA Home
Research Home
Public Roads
Featuring developments in Federal highway policies, programs, and research and technology.
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 59· No. 3 > Along the Road

Winter 1996
Vol. 59· No. 3

Along the Road

"Along the Road" is the place to look for information about current and upcoming activities, developments, trends, and items of general interest to the highway community. This information comes from Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) sources unless otherwise indicated. Your suggestions and input are welcome. Let's meet along the road.

Policy and Legislation

NHS Designation Act of 1995 Is Law

On November 28, President Clinton signed the National Highway System Designation Act of 1995. This legislation immediately releases more than $5 billion in funding for highway and other transportation projects. See the related article on page 29.

Management and Administration

DOT "Reinvention" On Schedule

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has completed implementation of more than half the National Performance Review (NPR) Phase I recommendations, says DOT Secretary Federico Peña. Part of President Clinton's Reinventing Government program, NPR is an inter-department challenge from the president for government agencies to "get back to the basics." During DOT's two-year review, Peña said the department is ahead of schedule in reducing its civilian payroll, trimming 7,000 positions thus far.

Peña said DOT has done extensive strategic planning, established state and local partnerships, moved to leverage federal transportation dollars, established performance standards and streamlined its regulatory process. In April, Peña announced plans to consolidate the department's 10 operating administrations into three: an Intermodal Transportation Administration to handle all surface and maritime transportation issues, a revamped Federal Aviation Administration, and the Coast Guard.

Maryland Opens First Statewide Traffic Center

Maryland has become the first state to activate a statewide traffic control center. Called the Statewide Operations Center (SOC), the $7 million facility serves as the heart of the state's CHART (Chesapeake Highway Advisories Routing Traffic) system and other Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) programs. SOC operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it serves as the information hub for the Maryland State Highway Administration, the State Police, and the Transportation Authority.

State transportation officials said SOC monitors 26,000 kilometers of interstate highways and other major arterial traffic via closed circuit television, bi-directional traffic detectors, and pavement sensors; provides traveler information via variable message signs, highway advisory telephones, and traveler advisory radio; and deploys police and other emergency response personnel and traffic patrol vehicles.

All field equipment eventually will be connected to the SOC nerve center through a fiber optic backbone being installed by MCI. The system was funded entirely by U.S. DOT; however, annual operations funding has not yet been determined. MCI and TCG, which is installing electronic network equipment and five hubs for the fiber optic network, will maintain the network over the next 40 years. As a result, the state expects to save approximately $14 million to $20 million during that period.

ITS America

Peña Unveils NAFTA Plans

Secretary Peña announced recently a series of measures U.S. DOT will take to ensure a smooth opening of the U.S. - Mexican border to U.S., Canadian, and Mexican trucking. In accordance with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the border officially opened Dec. 17 to inter-American commerce. DOT plans to conduct a comprehensive education program for the trucking industry on motor carrier requirements in all three countries. In addition, DOT will work to ensure safety standards are upheld.

Technical News

NIST, Big Three Team on Emissions Testing Technologies

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is teaming with the Big Three U.S. automakers General Motors, Ford and Chrysler to develop technology necessary to test low-emission vehicles. NIST is joining forces with the American Industry/Government Emissions Research Consortium to develop new measurement technologies and standards against which the automakers can test their new car and truck designs. NIST is also working with the consortium to accurately measure ultra-low levels of pollutants in auto exhaust.

Amerigon Receives $2.5 Million EV Grant

Amerigon Inc. has received a $2.5 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) for electric vehicle development. The company received an additional $500,000 from the Defense Department's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) for similar work. The FTA funds will be administered by CALSTART, the California non-profit advanced transportation technology consortium, which is playing a major role in the development of the Advanced Transportation Incubator. Amerigon will conduct its research at the Incubator.

- Technology Transfer Week

First Supercar Hybrids On Track

According to the Department of Commerce, the Big Three automakers intend to unveil the first of their "supercar" designs later this winter or early spring. The supercars are hybrids, combining internal combustion engines with energy storage systems including batteries. Although the cars will represent non -driving "concept" models, they will offer the first real glimpse at the automakers' attempts to engineer a mid-size automobile with at least a 600-km range at three times the fuel efficiency of today's conventional cars. Conducted under the auspices of Commerce's Technology Administration, the "Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles" (PNGV) is pursuing near-term goals of lower manufacturing costs, faster product development, higher fuel efficiency, and lower emissions. ARPA is conducting similar research in hybrid and electric vehicle energy storage systems relevant to the PNGV efforts.

-Technology Transfer Week

Flywheels Considered for Automobiles

An inertial energy storage technology first used in the 1970s for centrifugal enrichment of uranium for nuclear weapons is being given a second look as a potential energy storage technology for electric vehicles, locomotives, and electric utilities. Current research into the flywheels is being funded by ARPA, the Department of Energy (DOE), railroad groups, and industry members interested in ultra-low emission and electric vehicles.
Flywheels store kinetic energy in a composite rotor ranging in size from a few inches to several meters in diameter with rotation speeds up to 200,000 rpm. The rotor is powered up by an electric motor that doubles as a generator when the flywheel discharges its energy. ARPA currently is funding four programs conducting flywheel research: United Technologies Corp., American Flywheel Systems, the University of Texas, and Satcom Technology Corp. Flywheel technology also is playing a larger role in PNGV.

-Technology Transfer Week

FRA, Air Force Building Maglev Track

The Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Air Force are collaborating on a magnetic levitation (maglev) experiment for high-speed ground transportation and missile defense warhead testing. The Air Force currently is building a 9.6 -km maglev track at Holloman AFB in New Mexico at a cost of $44.9 million. Slated for completion in 1999, the track is expected to surpass the record-breaking speeds set on a sister track at the base where vehicles have been tracked timed at 9,852 km per hour. The maglev provides no-contact sled designs that permits the FRA to assess safety and performance issues for future high-speed passenger service.

- Technology Transfer Week

Peña Kicks Off Texas "Smart Highway"

Earlier this summer, Secretary Peña officially launched the first 42-km section of San Antonio's new TransGuide traffic management system. The "smart highway" is comprised of embedded loop detectors, variable message and lane control signs, and computers linked by a high-speed fiber optic network. The 42-km section took almost three years to build and cost $35 million. When completed, the TransGuide system will encompass 307 km of interstate highway and major arterials in and around San Antonio at a total cost of $151 million.

The new system will enable traffic engineers to detect problems such as traffic accidents, traffic backups, breakdowns, etc., within two minutes, adding another 15 seconds for dispatchers to contact the appropriate authorities for response. Since Peña inaugurated the system in July, TransGuide officials say the system has worked well, enabling operators to handle several major accidents and severe weather conditions. The Federal Government picked up 80 percent of the tab, and Texas covered the rest. See the related story in Public Roads, Summer 1995.

Argonne Reformer Clears PEM Hurdle

DOE's Argonne National Laboratory has developed a compact on-board methanol reformer that allows a DOE-funded proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell, fueled by methane, to drive electric cars. Smaller than a seven-gallon container, the reformer allows electric cars to extract hydrogen for their fuel cells from natural gas of liquid fuels. Argonne's device, funded by DOE's Office of Transportation Technologies, accommodates frequent startup/shutdown cycles and stop-and-go driving.

The reformer fits under the hood of a compact car adjacent to a 50-kilowatt PEM fuel cell. The reformer's simple design makes for low-cost manufacturing, and it is the first tangible sign that fuel cells for stop-and-go transportation are on the horizon. DOE's Los Alamos National Laboratory, in conjunction with General Motors Corp., are developing vehicular PEM fuel cells. Ballard Power Systems, Vancouver, is testing a PEMpowered bus and will market a 275-horsepower bus engine in 1998.

-Technology Transfer Week

USABC Electric Car Battery in Doubt

The General Accounting Office (GAO) reports that a government/industry consortium, established to develop a mid-term battery for electric vehicles, is falling behind affordability goals. The government watchdog agency also reports that the consortium's plans to develop a higher performance long-term battery faces difficult technical hurdles. Established in 1991 as part of an initiative between General Motors, Ford and Chrysler in response to a California mandate to introduce electric vehicles by 1998, the consortium U.S. Advanced Battery Consortium (USABC) was later joined by the DOE, the Electric Power Research Institute, and seven battery manufacturers. GAO said that although USABC officials see the mid-range batteries as technically feasible, their production -level cost estimates of $7,000 per battery are $2,500 above the original goal.

Unless government subsidies are included, a prospect the GAO sees as dim, the mid-range batteries would be unaffordable. The mid-range battery is designed to power an electric vehicle at least 160 km between recharges. The consortium's plans to introduce a prototype long-term battery design by 1994 have failed to materialize, and GAO said technical problems will continue to hamper the program. Although USABC officials said the GAO report underestimates the efficacy of mid-term batteries, officials acknowledge that high costs are a problem and will preclude electric vehicles from seriously competing with conventional gas-powered vehicles for the foreseeable future.

-Technology Transfer Week

Public Information and Information Exchange

ITS Goes Online

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America) is officially online with its own web site on the fast-growing World Wide Web. The new digital forum will provide ITS America members with current news and information about the group, and provide a venue for discussion. The general public can access the web site to receive the ITS America calendar of events, order publications, and view membership lists. Password in hand, ITS America members can access more pertinent ITS information, including member contact information, all ITS America newsletters, committee news, and more. The web address is: http://www.itsa.org. For additional information contact Kevin Hoffman by e-mail at khoffman@itsa.org or - for the technophobic - by phone at 202-484-4847.

- ITS America

Personnel

Les Lamm Died on Nov. 1

Lester (Les) P. LammLester (Les) P. Lamm, former executive director and deputy administrator of FHWA and former president of ITS America and the Highway Users Federation, died on Nov. 1.

Lamm began his career with FHWA as a highway engineer trainee in 1955 and rose through the ranks to serve as executive director from 1973 to 1982 and deputy adminstrator from 1982 to 1986.

Mineta to Head Lockheed Martin ITS Division

Rep. Norman Mineta, D-Calif., announced his plans to retire from the House at the end of his term. Mineta is moving on to head Martin Lockheed's Intelligent Transportation System division, which is developing electronic toll collection and weigh-in-motion technology. As the ranking minority member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, Mineta will bring a great deal of expertise with him when he joins the defense giant.

-ITS America

Saxton Named Futures' Chair

Lyle Saxton has been appointed chairman of ITS America's Futures Group by ITS America Chairman Jack Kay. Founded in August 1994 by former ITS Chairman Lawrence Dahms, the Futures Group is tasked with monitoring the ITS program and the ITS America organization in fulfilling their charters. The group's first chairman, Saxton said he intends to pursue a more structured approach in accomplishing the group's work. Saxton was previously the Director of the Office of Safety and Traffic Operations Research and Development for FHWA.

- ITS America

Solomon Joins ITS Consortium

Merion Solomon has joined the Intelligent Transportation Society Consortium as manager of education and program development. Solomon will coordinate the consortium's ITS programs and development opportunities at historically black colleges and universities, minority businesses and minority communities. Solomon most recently served as acting director of Morgan State University's National Center for Transportation Management, Research and Development.

- ITS America

Conferences

Intelligent Transportation's Sixth Annual Meeting & Expo

The Intelligent Transportation Society of America is hosting its Sixth Annual Meeting and Exposition at the George Brown Convention Center in Houston Texas April 15-18, 1996. The conference's theme is "Intelligent Transportation: Realizing the Benefits." The conference offers a full agenda of technical sessions, seminars, and site tours along with displays of cutting-edge ITS technology and products ready for deployment. More than 4,000 public- and private-sector officials and ITS professionals are expected to attend. ITS America will also broadcast specially prepared programming from the annual meeting and exhibit floor to regional receiving sites throughout the world. For more information contact ITS America at 202-484-4847.

- ITS America

ResearchFHWA
FHWA
United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration