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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / January/February 2010

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-010
Date: January/February 2010

Telling the R&T Story

From building the bridge of the future to saving lives with cable median barriers to going green to protect the environment, the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) continuing commitment to highway research is changing the way roads, bridges, and other highway facilities are designed, built, and maintained across the country. A new FHWA publication, The Value of Research: Telling the R&T Story (Pub. No. FHWA-HRT-09-050), spotlights examples of how FHWA research has been translated into groundbreaking technology that is improving the safety, reliability, effectiveness, and sustainability of today's transportation system.

In Ohio, for example, the bridge of the future has arrived. Using geosynthetic reinforced soil (GRS) technology for abutments, revolutionary new bridges are being built using readily available materials and common construction equipment, without the need for highly skilled workers. Instead of a conventional bridge abutment, GRS technology alternates layers of compacted local soil and sheets of geotextile fabric reinforcement to provide support for the bridge. The result is bridges that are both extremely durable and cost effective. Compared to standard bridge construction, transportation agencies can cut their costs by 25 to 50 percent.

Researchers at the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) pioneered the development of the technology. FHWA has since worked with CDOT to further refine it, including building and testing several full-scale GRS structures at its Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, Virginia. With initial guidance from FHWA, Defiance County, Ohio, built the Bowman Road Bridge using GRS technology in 2005. The county realized a cost savings of nearly 25 percent and shaved 2 weeks off the construction time for a conventional bridge. Since that first project, Defiance County has built more than 10 bridges using GRS. Other Ohio counties and several States are also now interested in using the technology.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, FHWA has worked with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to analyze the performance of cable median barriers and look for potential improvements in the technology. Since 1998, NCDOT has installed hundreds of miles of cable median barriers across the State, instead of using the traditional concrete and metal beam barriers. NCDOT estimates that between 1999 and 2005 more than 95 cross-median crashes were prevented, saving more than 145 lives. FHWA and NCDOT researchers applied advanced digital simulation techniques to analyze the dynamics of vehicles as they cross a median and determined that a barrier's performance depends on where it is placed in the median. The research has now been expanded to cover different cable median barriers and a range of median configurations, with the results being used to develop new cable barrier standards in several States and to develop guidelines for incorporation in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' (AASHTO) Roadside Design Guide.

Reducing emissions and minimizing the impact of highway infrastructure on the environment is another significant focus of FHWA's research and technology activities. FHWA and AASHTO's Center for Environmental Excellence (environment.transportation.org) provides a one-stop shop for transportation professionals seeking technical assistance, training, information exchange, partnership-building opportunities, and quick and easy access to environmental tools. Among the center's resources are 13 Practitioner Guides that provide practical, easy to understand advice on current environmental management issues, including Developing and Implementing a Stormwater Management Program in a Transportation Agency and Responding to Comments on an Environmental Impact Statement.

The home page of FHWA and AASHTO's Center for Environmental Excellence (environment.transportation.org).

FHWA and AASHTO's Center for Environmental Excellence (environment.transportation.org) provides quick and easy access to environmental tools.

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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