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Highways for LIFE

ArrowWhy Highways for LIFE?

To answer that, let's take a look at our highway system...

First, it's overcrowded. By the year 2020, ninety percent of the urban Interstate highways will be at or exceeding capacity. The Texas Transportation Institute put the cost of congestion in our 75 largest urban areas at $67.5 billion in 2000. And each traveler in those areas sits in traffic for 62 hours a year.

Second, it's not lasting as long as it should. Highways built to last 25 years take such a pounding from the level and the weight of traffic that they rarely last that long. Almost a third of all bridges in the country are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Yet, many highway engineers agree that 50-year pavements and 100-year bridges should be attainable using current technology.

We're not building them safe enough. Every year for the past decade, 43,000 people have died on America's highways. Over half of those are on two-lane roads which carry only 25% of the traffic. And 15,000 of those fatalities are ascribed directly to substandard road conditions, obsolete designs or roadside hazards.

The list goes on and on. Truly, the highway system needs help. But how do we bring the system back up to the level of quality the traveling public deserves?

That's the challenge our agency faces at the beginning of a new century. And many people have thought long and hard for solutions. Initiating a massive, costly construction effort to rebuild the entire thing under growing levels of traffic is inconceivable. What, then, is the solution? That's where Highways for LIFE comes in.

The purpose of Highways for LIFE (HfL) is to advance Longer-lasting highway infrastructure using Innovations to accomplish the Fast construction of Efficient and safe highways and bridges. And it's innovation that is the key to finding our way out the highway challenge. Innovations is an inclusive term used by HfL to convey all of the following: technologies, materials, tools, equipment, procedures, specifications, methodologies, processes or practices used in the financing, design or construction of highways. The three goals of HfL are to...

  • Improve safety during and after construction,
  • Reduce congestion caused by construction, and
  • Improve the quality of the highway infrastructure.

Specifically, HfL is focused on accelerating the adoption of innovations in the highway community. For a number of reasons, that adoption has traditionally been measured, not merely in years, but in decades! A recent example is the adoption of the SuperPave asphalt binder specification which began in 1992 and was adopted by the 50th State in 2004. In fact, SuperPave has been cited as an example of accelerated adoption by AASHTO, the States and FHWA that was supported by specifically authorized funding. One might wonder, if it takes that long for a technology which has Congressional sponsorship, how much longer will other things take?

HfL is based upon the realization that there are currently available innovations within the highway community that, if widely and rapidly adopted, would result in significant benefits to the highway motorist, user and owner agency. Quite often a typical response to suggesting one of these innovations is "oh, that's been around for years." While that may, in fact, be the case, nonetheless its use is far from the routine.

Thus, although innovations themselves are important, Highways for LIFE is as much about changing the highway community's attitude toward them. From a culture that looks at innovation as something that will only add to one's work, delay the project, add to the cost or increase risk, to one that sees it as an opportunity to provide a better highway transportation service. It is also effort to change the way highway community decision makers and participants perceive their jobs and the service they are providing. As a State highway administrator said of his staff "it's getting them to understand that they are providing a highway transportation service rather than a highway construction program."

As an integral part of this service focus, HfL introduces the concept of performance goals that are aimed at serving the highway user and motorist. These performance goals are set at a level that represents the best of what we can do, not just the average of what we have been doing. And that all performance goals must be applied to each project and to reach the goals requires an integrated team approach to highway delivery rather than the current stove-piped approach. Today, the most widely used goals are (1) the cost of the project, (2) the time to develop and advertise the project and in some cases (3) the time it takes to actually construct the projects. Since the great majority of highway design and construction is covered by standards and guidelines, the assumption exists that meeting the standards will result in the best performance.

The legislative for Highways for LIFE represents a change strategy. It contains elements to create awareness, inform, educate, train, assist and entice State DOTs and their staff. Funding for projects is an enticement, but, it is only one of the elements. In fact, with the anticipated funding levels for HfL, funding for projects by itself will not bring about or sustain such a change. HfL must address the underlying issues such as, "I didn't know," "It's not need here," "It's not my job," or "I don't have time." Beyond those issues, HfL also intends to provide the training and technical assistance necessary to ease and sustain the innovation adoption. A key strategy of HfL is getting the word out on innovations and success stories that describe the benefits to the highway motorist, user and owner agency.

FHWA is committed to the core concepts of HfL. This commitment is based upon the decades of FHWA's leadership in innovation development, delivery and deployment and its role as the steward of the Federal-aid highway program to provide the best highway transportation service to the Nation.

More Information



Ewa Flom
Center for Accelerating Innovation

Updated: 04/04/2011

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration