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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-10-001 Vol. 73 No. 3    Date:  Nov/Dec 2009
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-001 Vol. 73 No. 3
Date: Nov/Dec 2009


Guest Editorial

Managing Research Within FHWA

A photo of Melisa L. Ridenour Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division Engineer Federal Highway Administration

Spending time at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) makes one aware of the tremendous resources offered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) at that facility and the opportunities for working together to bring to life innovations that address current and future challenges. Moving research efforts into real application in the field is critical to the Nation's transportation network.

As innovations transition from research to development to deployment, various FHWA offices play critical roles. Sometimes the office that has the lead is clear. For example, the Resource Center has the primary responsibility for carrying out technology deployment, with the support of the rest of FHWA. The program offices, which are responsible for defining the overall goals with input from both internal and external stakeholders, develop policy and offer guidance in making innovation a part of everyone's daily business. Research management and development of new technology are handled differently depending on the subject area. Some are led by the program offices, while TFHRC takes the lead in other areas. No matter who is in charge, everyone has responsibility to work together to achieve the defined goals. TFHRC, as FHWA's research arm, has the overall task of managing the highway research program and is the one division that is knowledgeable about all research and development projects.

Obtaining stakeholder input is critical in making sure that research is meeting the needs of the transportation community and the public. In FHWA's 2010 Strategic Implementation Plan, the agency underscores a national performance objective to "establish a transparent and ongoing highway community-wide process to identify national highway research and technology priorities." This objective includes establishing a framework for this process of coordinating with internal and external partners and stakeholders to identify research priorities.

For those unfamiliar with TFHRC, let this be said: the research capabilities of the FHWA laboratories are amazing. This facility is one of the few places in the United States where full-scale testing can be set up and accomplished in a short time. For example, after the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, MN, collapsed in August 2007, TFHRC stepped in to perform testing on the bridge gusset plates. TFHRC researchers quickly changed gears, reordering priorities to provide the needed floor space, freeing up appropriate equipment, and involving nationally and internationally known experts to coordinate the necessary testing support.

In this fast-paced world, innovation will have to move even more quickly from research to deployment. The transportation community constantly is challenging TFHRC to solve the latest highway problem. Reacting quickly to solve new challenges requires dynamic personnel with the experience and ability to translate issues into viable research and development projects. The topics that need to be addressed are broad and varied, as well as exciting: implementation of the Strategic Highway Research Program 2, bridge remedial action, pavement preservation, accelerated project delivery, asset management, design visualization, infrastructure security and blast protection, innovative construction contracting, and green technology.

For example, this issue of Public Roads features an article, "Developing Advanced Methods of Assessing Bridge Performance," that describes FHWA's research under the Long-Term Bridge Performance Program. This program will collect scientific quality data from a representative sample of the Nation's highway bridges to improve knowledge of bridge performance and deterioration, and ultimately enhance the safety and reliability of highway structures.

More is demanded from every research dollar spent, and the way to maximize the return on investment in this economy is through innovation.

Melisa L. Ridenour

Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division Engineer

Federal Highway Administration



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Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center | 6300 Georgetown Pike | McLean, VA | 22101