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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 61· No. 3 > Highway Innovative Technology Evaluation Center

Nov/Dec 1997
Vol. 61· No. 3

Three Years Later and Exceeding Expectations:

Highway Innovative Technology Evaluation Center

by Peter Kissinger and Nicole Testa

Innovation and collaboration have increasingly become essential ingredients for success in the highway and transportation industry, and not surprisingly. In an era of global competition, diminishing resources, and rapid technology advancement, companies are striving to incorporate innovation into all of their operations.

For decades, both the public and private sector have been struggling to overcome the many barriers to introducing innovation into the highway system. Some obstacles include developing adequate standards and specifications for untried technologies, shortening the length of time before a product is introduced into the marketplace, finding a cost-effective means for new product testing, and developing a comprehensive system under which information is shared between the various agencies.

Background

In an attempt to provide a solution for some of these problems, several agencies and organizations -- including the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the National Association of County Engineers, the American Public Works Association, and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) -- collaborated to create the Highway Innovative Technology Evaluation Center (HITEC). HITEC was established in 1992 through a cooperative agreement between FHWA and the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF), the research affiliate of the American Society of Civil Engineers. Created three years ago as a first-stop service center to speed the introduction of innovative technologies into the highway marketplace, HITEC has filled an unprecedented role in the highway community.

Premised on fostering a long-term relationship of coordination between the public sectors, who are the end users of innovative technologies, and industry, who are potential HITEC clients, HITEC has enjoyed success in bringing the two sectors together. In fact, to date more than 250 individuals from the public sector, private sector, and academia have served as panelists for HITEC evaluations. Moreover, HITEC has a representative from each of the state departments of transportation (DOTs) who serves as a liaison between HITEC and their respective state. Through this network, both the state DOTs and HITEC benefit from the exchange of information.

The HITEC process.

The HITEC process.

HITEC Collaborative Evaluation Process

Building on CERF's role as a facilitator and striving to fulfill its own role as a national clearinghouse for highway innovation, HITEC places extensive emphasis on coordinating its evaluation efforts throughout the highway design, engineering, and construction community.

In a neutral setting, all parties involved in the evaluation convene to discuss and consider the best way to evaluate the product. During these deliberations (which usually last two days), the parties devise a written evaluation plan, outlining any research, testing, or demonstrations the panel deems necessary. Once the evaluation plan is written and approved by the panel, the actual evaluation begins. Depending on the type of technology or characteristic of the product, the evaluation phase can last anywhere from six months to several years. For example, a product that only requires research and laboratory testing will take much less time than a pothole patching agent that requires field demonstration testing and analysis over a specified period and/or through several winter weather cycles. Regardless of the evaluation length, once the evaluation is completed, HITEC produces a comprehensive, technical evaluation report that it distributes to the highway community.

HITEC adds a valuable service to the community by serving both the private sector -- those manufacturers and suppliers who are trying to introduce new technologies -- and the user community -- the state and local highway officials who have the responsibility for designing, constructing, maintaining and rehabilitating the systems. Through HITEC, collaborative relationships are fostered that present mutually beneficial opportunities for the group.

Innovation Through Collaboration

HITEC has also made strides in collaborating with other industry-related organizations. One example is HITEC's continued coordination with TRB to ensure that program activities complement one another. A good illustration of this is the coordination between HITEC and TRB programs, such as the Ideas Deserving Exploratory Analysis (IDEA). Because many entrepreneurs who have innovative ideas do not always have the resources to develop a market-ready product, HITEC routinely refers such companies to the IDEA program, which was specifically established to support the development of commercially viable technologies. Eventually, an IDEA program can help develop a concept into a market-ready product that could then qualify for a HITEC evaluation. At present, HITEC is finalizing the details for an evaluation of a micro-processor lamp switch that evolved from the IDEA program.

Another example of collaboration with other organizations is the National Transportation Product Evaluation Program (NTPEP), which was created by AASHTO to pool the professional and physical resources of participating departments and to improve the cost-effectiveness of product evaluations. Unlike HITEC, which evaluates products that are market-ready but cannot he measured by existing standards or specifications, NTPEP evaluates products through AASHTO and/or American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) test protocols. Thus, although similar to HITEC, NTPEP provides a different function in the community by serving as an evaluation program for generic testing protocols, which it can use to evaluate families of similar products.

HITEC has been working closely to feed NTPEP with suhsequent technology evaluation testing once an initial technology has already completed the HITEC process. HITEC and NTPEP also collaborate on other, smaller levels, such as program referral. HITEC refers products that do not meet the HITEC eligibility criteria to NTPEP. In addition, HITEC and NTPEP participate jointly in conference presentations and exhibits to educate the community on the similarities and differences of the programs.

HITEC's Group Evaluation Process

Plastic stop signs vs. traditional metal stops signs.
The stop sign, which is made entirely from plastic, demonstrates greater retroreflectivity and durability than traditional metallic stopsigns.
(Photo courtesy of All Sign Products, Inc.)
As HITEC has evolved, the staff has sought new opportunities beyond the original evaluation concept to collaborate with government, industry, and academia and to accelerate the introduction of new technologies into the market. One new way HITEC serves the industry is through group evaluations. These evaluations leverage resources from states, relevant associations, and multiple vendors into programs that provide benefits to all sectors of the community. HITEC has many group evaluations in various stages of completion, including seismic isolation and energy dissipation devices for bridges, proprietary earth-retaining systems, fiber-reinforced polymer composite systems for concrete structure repair and strengthening, composite column wrap for seismic retrofit, alternate materials for dowel bars, and weigh-in-motion sensors.

With more than 30 states susceptihle to earthquakes in the United States, it is not surprising that HITEC's group evaluation of seismic isolation and energy dissipation devices has received the largest number of applicants to date. Initiated in early 1994 in a coordinated effort between the California Department of Transportation, FHWA, and HITEC, 12 different technologies are currently undergoing evaluation. The evaluation is broad in scope, including elastomeric bearings, slider/roller bearings, spherical sliders, and dampers. And, because of the sizeable range of technologies in this evaluation, FHWA was able to provide financial assistance for testing through the Applied Research and Technology Program. A guideline report was published in March 1996 that outlined the technical evaluation plan. Final evaluation reports will be published in early 1998 to provide guidance to the highway community regarding the selection, design, and use of these devices for varying levels of performance.

A second HITEC group evaluation is for proprietary earth-retaining systems. HITEC surveyed the state departments of transportation to ascertain their individual experience with earth-retaining systems, their evaluation criteria used for acceptance, and their interest in HITEC pursuing such a large-scale evaluation. Because of the survey response, HITEC determined that the states needed to conduct a comprehensive, group evaluation of these systems, and thus, HITEC assembled a panel. To provide technical assistance to HITEC and en- sure coordination at all levels within the state DOTs, AASHTO's T-15 Technical Committee on Retaining Walls and Structures agreed to participate in the evaluation. Presently there are six different earth-retaining systems participating in the group evaluation, but HITEC is continuing to accept applications on an ongoing basis and expects several more will join in coming months.

The evaluations for the initial applicants will be completed in 1997. HITEC initiated a third group evaluation involving the Ohio DOT. The Ohio DOT was interested in an evaluation of fiber-reinforced polymer (FRP) composite systems for concrete structure repair and strengthening. This evaluation consists of three manufacturers with distinctly different FRP technologies: precured laminate, prepreg unidirectional carbon fiber, and dry unidirectional carbon fiber. This evaluation is unique because the established generic evaluation plan is being applied to the three different FRP products rather than having a separate evaluation plan for each product.

Similarly, HITEC is conducting a group evaluation for composite column wrapping that presently has two manufacturers in the program. Like the FRP evaluation, the manufacturers are using two different materials for the same application. One is using fiberglass, and the other is carbon-fiber based.

HITEC recently initiated a group evaluation of alternate materials for dowel bars. Unlike any other evaluation thus far, two associations, the Composites Institute and the Specialty Steel Industry of North America, applied to HITEC. Representing the composite and steel industries respectively, these associations have taken the lead in conducting an evaluation to establish an industry standard for dowel bars. To date, the performance characteristics of dowel bars, such as stiffness and shear strength, have never heen formally determined, and it is anticipated that this collaborative effort will provide that information.

Lastly, HITEC initiated a group evaluation of weigh-in-motion sensors in coordination with TRB's Long-Term Pavement Performance Program. Presently, three manufacturers are in the evaluation, which encompasses both laboratory testing and field demonstrations. Part of the evaluation is being conducted at WesTrack, an FHWA asphalt pavement test facility in Nevada.

Single-Applicant New Starts

The number of individual HITEC-initiated evaluations has also increased since HITEC's inception. Currently, more than 60 applicants (including group applicants) participate in the HITEC process. Approximately 20 percent of those represent international firms, showing that HITEC is not limited to the evaluation of American technologies. Similar to the group evaluations, HITEC's individual evaluations include technologies that are widely applicable in the highway market. These technologies cover a variety of applications, including concrete materials and systems, bridge applications, highway maintenance technologies and systems, and traffic engineering and safety products. The following is a current list of the evaluations in the HITEC program:

  • Polycarbonate plastic stop sign.
  • Liquid bonding agent for pothole repairs.
  • Precast segmental overpass system.
  • Innovative sign design to reduce glare.
  • Recycled rubber utility valve box cover.
  • Composite bridge fendering system.
  • Sight and sound screening system.
  • Heated pavement system.
  • Water/cement ratio gauge.
  • Liquid anti/deicing agent.
  • Freeze/drying sand treatment.
  • Asphalt pavement test device.
  • Prefabricated bridge system.
  • Concrete pavers for utility cut repairs.
  • Fast-drying pavement compound used for legends of lines on concrete or asphalt.
  • Functionalized thermoplastic powder containing pigments and proprietary additives.

Looking Ahead

Because of the community's initial support, HITEC gained the resources necessary to become an operational center and initiated more than 25 product evaluations in three years. Through continued coordination, federal, state, and local departments of transportation, industry-related associations and organizations, and technology trans- fer centers nationwide will ensure that the end result of the process -- the technical evaluation reports -- will be disseminated throughout their organizations. To date, HITEC has published six reports.

HITEC is committed to promoting and enhancing future collaboration within the industry. Based on HITEC's success, CERF has expanded its evaluation services by establishing two new evaluation centers -- CEITEC to serve the entire civil engineering and construction community and EVTEC, the Environmental Technology Evaluation Center. Both centers were modeled after HITEC. Preliminary discussions are also underway to expand into defense roads and trenchless technology evaluation arenas.

HITEC welcomes the heightened interest in the program and looks forward to the day when the public sees these evaluated technologies implemented on our nation's highways and bridges.

For more information on the HITEC program, please contact Nicole Testa, HITECprogram coordinator, at (202) 842-0555, or e-mail at hitec@cerf.asce.org.


J. Peter Kissinger joined the CERF staff in January 1993 as the director of HITEC and was responsible for organizing and implementing the HITEC program. Previously, he was employed by Chromalloy Gas Turbine Corporation as the director of Strategic Programs. In this capacity, he was responsible for introducing new technologies into the business, developing international business, and forming strategic alliances. Before that, he was employed by the National Transportation Safety Board for 12 years, serving the last eight as managing director. He has also held a variety of engineering and research assignments with the U.S. Coast Guard. He has a bachelor's degree in engineering from the Coast Guard Academy and a master's degree in operations research from The George Washington University.

Nicole M. Testa is the program coordinator for the HITEC program at CERF. She coordinates HITEC's communication and public relations activities and manages the production and distribution of HITEC's publications and technical reports. She earned a bachelor's degree from American University.

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