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Date: March 1999
Enhancing transportation research and technology through partnerships was the theme of a special session at the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) annual meeting in January. The session brought together industry representatives, U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) personnel, and over 100 annual meeting participants to discuss the importance of partnerships in light of the lack of designated funding for research and development contained in the 1998 Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21).
Compared with previous legislation, the available funds for education, training, deployment, and research and development have been cut in half under TEA-21. These cutbacks, said FHWA Executive Director Tony Kane, have "forced us to think about the leveraging and partnerships that we should have always been thinking about. Now we are going to do this at an accelerated pace. Partnerships should be increased and enhanced if we are going to meet the demands of the coming decade through better technologies and enhanced research and development. The future can be bright if we work together."
Partnerships will be crucial to the DOT's new Technology Deployment Initiatives and Partnerships (TDIP) program (see January 1999 Focus). The program's five primary goals are:
The session featured speakers with expertise in each of the TDIP program goal areas. Richard Ashmore of Ashmore Brothers, a Greer, South Carolina, asphalt paving company, focused on the importance of improving the safety and convenience of the motoring public and reducing delays caused by work zones. "The primary partnership is with the public, and the key is to improve communication," he said. "Letting the public know what is going on is the best way to ensure safety in work zones."
On a related theme, Gary Hoffman of the Pennsylvania DOT spoke of the need to improve pavement technology, thus minimizing the traffic disruptions caused by maintenance and rehabilitation projects. "One of the ways we can meet public expectation for road quality is through technology implementation," he said. Accomplishing this means using the best materials available and promoting preservation techniques in order to ensure a longer pavement life. Pennsylvania DOT is already working with numerous partners to achieve this goal, including the Mid-Atlantic University Transportation Center, the American Concrete Paving Association, and the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute's Northeast Center for Pavement Technology. Hoffman believes that FHWA must continue its involvement as well, despite the funding cutbacks. "FHWA needs to continue to play a strong role in coordinating the national focus," says Hoffman. "There is a danger that we will all go our separate ways and not get to the top of the ladder if we don't have the focus."
Basav Sen of the U.S. DOT's Volpe Center spoke of the similar need to maintain a national focus on weather research. One way this is being done is through the new National Science and Technology Council's Enhanced Transportation Weather Services (ETWS) Initiative. This partnership between government agencies, professional and trade associations, the private sector, and academia was formed to increase the use of weather information in enhancing transportation safety and efficiency. ETWS hopes to extend its scope to provide weather information not only to its partners, but also to the everyday driver.
Fenton Carey, Associate Administrator for Research, Technology, and Analysis in U.S. DOT's Research and Special Programs Administration, closed the session by asking the transportation community to examine the way it does business. According to Carey, technologies exist today that could dramatically improve transportation safety and mobility while improving the environment and U.S. economic competitiveness at the same time. Within 10 years, for example, these technologies could reduce the highway-related fatality rate by 75 percent; reduce the time and cost required to maintain the Nation's highway infrastructure by 50 percent; and reduce intermodal freight travel time and handling costs by at least 50 percent. To achieve these objectives, however, will require strategically planned technology transfer efforts and partnerships that extend beyond State, Federal, and local transportation agencies to academia, industry, the environmental community, and the traveling public.
"The challenge," said Carey, "is to see how the public sector can benefit from private sector innovation. A new role for the Federal government is emerging, and it is one that makes better use of resources and more use of partnerships."
For more information on the TDIP program goals and opportunities for partnership, contact Bob Kelly at FHWA, 202-366-1565 (fax: 202-366-7909; email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
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