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Federal Highway Deputy Administrator Richard Capka
Remarks as prepared for delivery
Civil Engineering Research Foundation Executive Program
Wednesday, November 6, 2002, Washington, DC

I joined the agency three months ago . . . it's great to be part of the team responsible for meeting our nation's mobility needs and having a clearly positive impact upon our nation's quality of life!

President Bush and Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta want to ensure a safe, secure, and efficient transportation system for all Americans.

FHWA Administrator Mary Peters has clearly defined our agency's top three priorities that are a reflection of what we have been hearing across the nation. These are safety, congestion mitigation, and environmental stewardship and streamlining. Security and reauthorization, of course, remain very important as well. In setting those priorities we tried to be realistic about our resources and what we could accomplish in the near term, the next three to five years.

This morning, I want to take a little broader view than "near term" priorities and look at our crucial need for the utmost success in research, technology and innovation.


Like you, we at FHWA want to encourage innovation and move innovative ideas into practice. In fact, one of our most important agency themes is defining ourselves as "Innovators for a Better Future."

Innovation - it's the reason why the 20th Century was not like the 19th Century and it's the reason why the 21st Century will not be like the 20th. It's not just applying the lessons learned from past experiences. It is the discovery and uncovering of brand new experiences and the application of those new experiences.

Think about it . . . it's innovation that adds and redefines "quality" in our lives. Sometimes innovation results in small incremental improvements or adjustments to the way we do things. Sometimes innovation results in breakthrough-level technologies. Both are key and both must be fostered.

Today's safe, efficient and well-built highway infrastructure is founded on yesterday's R & T innovators in the private and public sectors, at the local, state and national levels. These pioneers took calculated risks and were willing to try and try again as they pushed for improvements. We need to provide an effective environment that permits and encourages highway innovation to flourish.

It's clear that without highway-related innovations our robust economy and quality of life would not be anywhere near to what we enjoy today. In fact, some of us would not be here today had it not been for safety innovations such as airbags and energy adsorbing technologies or something as simple as rumble strips.

It is vital that we support and manage our R & T programs so that they continue to produce the innovative materials, tools and techniques that will continue to improve our highway transportation systems. As stated in TRB Special Report 261 The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology, "the FHWA R&T program responds to the agency's mission and responsibilities for carrying out the federal-aid highway program authorized by Congress."

It goes on to say, "The majority of the programs are aimed at incremental improvements to lower construction and maintenance costs, better system performance, added highway capacity, reduced highway fatalities and injuries, reduced adverse environmental impacts, and a variety of user benefits." This is applied research.

It also notes that, "A small portion of the program funding, about $900,000, supports research focused on breakthrough technologies capable of improvements in highway performance and cost reductions. Such speculative and high-risk research has a potentially high payoff, but is unlikely to be addressed in other highway R&T programs because of the risk or cost involved.

I'm talking about advanced research that involves and draws upon basic research results to provide better understanding of problems and develop innovative solutions. Advanced research is sometimes referred to as exploratory research in order to describe its more fundamental character, its broader objectives, and the greater uncertainty in expected outcomes compared to problem-solving research.

Throughout its history, the FHWA R&T program has supported fundamental, long-term research aimed at achieving breakthroughs, identified and undertook research to fill highway research gaps, pursued emerging issues with national implications, and shared knowledge among and with others. That good work will continue.


In fact, we are currently working diligently to improve the processes through which we manage and facilitate the synchronization of all the parties who make up the highway R&T community. Before I describe this initiative I did want to briefly mention some of the things that we have going on in the security arena.

The surface transportation system is vital to our economy, national defense, and quality of life, but it is also extremely vulnerable to attack due to its sheer enormity and accessibility. Unless we actively manage the transportation system with security in mind, we will not be prepared for, or be able to effectively respond to or recover from a disaster.

FHWA is working the security issue and continues to work primarily through collaboration with the AASHTO Task Force on Security to advance highway-related security initiatives. We have a number of initiatives underway:

  • The development and distribution of a handbook for state DOTs to use in determining critical highway infrastructure, assessing vulnerability and determining appropriate countermeasures.
  • FHWA and AASHTO are now working to schedule three regional vulnerability assessment seminars - they will be held in New York, Texas, and California during the first two quarters of FY 2003.
  • The development and distribution of a handbook for state DOTs to assist in updating emergency response preparedness plans. We are complimenting this effort with facilitated workshops focusing on response preparedness. In 2002 we sponsored 10 workshops in metropolitan areas across the nation and are scheduling ten more this year. AASHTO is currently planning four response preparedness workshops during FY 2003 - two focused on rural areas and two on international border areas.
  • In order to provide guidance to bridge/tunnel owners, FHWA has appointed members to a FHWA/AASHTO Blue Ribbon Panel that will summarize the current state of the practice for approaches to highway bridge and tunnel infrastructure security.
  • We are also collaborating with the Corps of Engineers to develop workshops to train engineers in the area of terrorist threats to bridges and tunnels, with a focus on bridge and tunnel vulnerability to explosive attack. Three workshops will be held during February - May 2003. After the workshops, an FHWA team will provide assistance to state and local DOTs.
  • We are jointly working with the Military Traffic Management Command Transportation Engineering Agency (MTMCTEA) to support military mobilization over our nation's highways by ensuring that adequate military and civilian coordination procedures exist, especially at Power Projection Platform military installations.

There is much going on and much yet to do.


Now let me return briefly to an initiative that we have underway to improve the management of our R&T efforts in a more collaborative way with the other members and stakeholders of our R&T community. We call it our "Raise the Bar" initiative.

The corporate initiative to "raise-the-bar" (RTB) on research, technology and innovation deployment directly addresses our hope to create an environment where innovation will be effectively and efficiently deployed.

Through this initiative we are establishing our commitment to encourage creativity in individuals. However, we are also recognizing that innovation is often a group process and should be based upon a systematic way of researching, idea capturing, development, evaluation, and deployment.

Our RTB initiative has these objectives:

  • To address recommendations from the FHWA Restructuring Assessment, TRB RTCC #261, and the GAO Report.
  • To create an environment for rapid and extensive deployment of new technologies and innovations from all sources to all users.
  • To develop an FHWA Corporate Master Plan for Research and Deployment of Technology & Innovation that will provide a more systematic approach for all phases from setting research agendas to deployment and evaluation of effectiveness.

A primary focus of our Raise-The-Bar Initiative is to develop a more systematic process for engaging and maintaining contact with our external stakeholders in all phases of our work.

Communications are absolutely key. It's also important to demonstrate that all levels of research, particularly advanced innovative research, is worth the investment of national resources.

The reauthorization process that we're going through right now - part of that is convincing Congress, convincing the nation, that this is where resource dollars need to be invested in order to further innovation and improvements in the way we meet our highway responsibilities to the nation.


We live in a more dangerous world than any of us contemplated little more than a year ago. At DOT, we have literally worked day and night since September 11th to prevent terrorists from ever again using any facet of our transportation system as a weapon against any American.

The experiences of 9/11 have made us all realize the value of this country, which we tend to take for granted. Our strong transportation system, with many choices, and with highways as the backbone of mobility for both people and freight, is a source of much of this country's strength, both economically and in terms of personal freedoms.

Everyone in this room should be proud of their part in this team that is improving transportation and enhancing our nation's standard of living and quality of life.

I join Mary Peters and everyone in FHWA in wanting to make important contributions to America. . . . to make great strides in saving lives, in relieving congestion, and in completing needed projects while protecting the environment.

Innovation is key . . . innovation that leads the way for our highway system to become:

  • more cost effective
  • more efficient
  • more safe
  • less congested
  • more reflective of our responsibilities for environmental stewardship
  • and certainly more secure in our post 9/11 environment.

We in federal highways appreciate your interest, your energy, and your talents and we welcome your active participation in achieving these goals.

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