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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-12-004    Date:  May/June 2012
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-12-004
Issue No: Vol. 75 No. 6
Date: May/June 2012


Guest Editorial

Lessons from Many Teachers

Photo of Ian C. Saunders Director, Office of International Programs The word "learning" usually conjures images of classrooms and lecture halls, textbooks and libraries, and for some, perhaps, even memories of the dreaded pop quiz. Of course, learning is not restricted to time in a formal academic setting; it is an ongoing, daily process. And this is true for both individuals and organizations, in the United States and around the world. This issue of Public Roads is a reminder of just how many lessons are available to learn from one another, and of the lives, time, and money that can be saved when the transportation community makes effective use of the knowledge and experience of others.

The challenges facing highway agencies are significant and varied, as the articles in this issue of the magazine demonstrate. They range from concerns about wrong-way crashes on freeway exit ramps to the need for rapid bridge replacements in important local corridors, as shared in the experiences of Michigan and Massachusetts, respectively. These challenges also include important national issues such as the need for efficient movement of freight across multiple States and the obligation of the transportation sector to respond to even the most daunting of natural conditions. In all of these contributions, the application of innovation to exigent circumstances is clear.

The articles in this issue also confirm a founding premise of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) international outreach: information that addresses critical issues can be obtained from other countries. Sometimes the lessons learned relate to a specific technology. The use of prefabricated bridge elements in Massachusetts' I-93 Fast 14 Project, for example, is an approach with a long, successful history in Europe and Japan.

Other times, the lessons pertain to broad approaches to resolving transportation problems. Japan's experiences following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami are perhaps the most striking. A previously unthinkable natural disaster provided a large-scale testing ground for emergency response protocols and rapid reconstruction approaches. The tragedy also created an unprecedented basis for assessing seismic design standards. What was learned in Japan, and the successes achieved in the face of overwhelming circumstances, is instructive and inspiring for other seismically active regions. For example, State Engineer Bruce Johnson, of the Oregon Department of Transportation, has worked with FHWA in technical exchanges with Japan for some time and notes the value of this collaboration in helping his State prepare for a large event in the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

This issue of Public Roads offers clear examples of the value of information exchange, with several international dimensions. The transportation community can learn from expertise developed elsewhere and demonstrate its own successes in ways that can benefit others who are charged with ensuring highway safety, efficiency, and integrity, both at home and abroad. As such challenges promise to continue, the sharing of lessons from many teachers is a vital tool in creating and maintaining safe and effective road transportation.

Ian C. Saunders

Director, Office of International Programs

Federal Highway Administration




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