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Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-14-003    Date:  March/April 2014
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-14-003
Issue No: Vol. 77 No. 5
Date: March/April 2014


Guest Editorial

The Journey Toward Solutions

Photo. Official headshot of Michael Trentacoste, Associate Administrator for the Office of Research, Development, and Technology and Director of the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center, FHWA.Who could have predicted that a slide rule, typewriter, telephone, weather gauge, camera, and watch would morph into the modern smartphone? A century ago, transportation engineers called for the conversion of dirt roads to asphalt or cement, an innovation that promised the benefits of less maintenance and greater longevity. Today, as in the past, researchers and inventors continue to provide solutions to short- and long-term transportation challenges.

For more than a century, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and its predecessor, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering, have played a key leadership role in transportation research. Efforts spearheaded at the Federal level have yielded substantial benefits and facilitated development of many improvements in all aspects of the highway system, including safer road and roadside designs, longer lasting pavements, structurally sound bridges, and advanced traffic systems. Research continues to play a crucial role in advances that promise to save lives, time, and money. But, increasing demands for limited resources and higher expectations from the public make prioritization a necessity.

Existing highway research and technology (R&T) programs are highly decentralized and consist of multiple individual programs, including FHWA’s R&T Program, State planning and research programs, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, the Transportation Pooled Fund Program, the University Transportation Centers Program, and many private sector activities. A quick search of databases such as the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) ResearchHub, managed by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, and the Transportation Research Board’s Research in Progress reveals that thousands of transportation research projects are underway. Transportation agencies, universities, and private organizations clearly are conducting, sponsoring, and funding an astounding amount of research.

At the national level, though, are FHWA and the transportation community conducting the right research to meet current and future needs? Are there research gaps that should be filled? Is the transportation research community leveraging relevant research performed both inside and outside the highway industry?

To help answer these questions, FHWA created the Research and Technology (R&T) Agenda. It is the first step in the agency’s plan to develop a collaborative platform to document national transportation challenges and provide transparency into FHWA’s research activities. The R&T Agenda summarizes FHWA’s own research priorities and offers stakeholders a means to provide input into the direction of the FHWA R&T Program.

Specifically, the agenda illustrates how FHWA’s objectives, strategies, and research will meet each of six high-priority challenges: advancing safety, improving mobility, maintaining infrastructure integrity, enhancing performance, promoting sustainability, and preparing for the future. Further, the agenda will stimulate new innovations, practices, and policies that result in more sustainable roadways. For more on FHWA’s R&T portfolio and how to get involved, read “FHWA’s R&T Agenda Addresses National Challenges” on page 2 in this issue of Public Roads.

The end goal is to improve the transportation community’s ability to work together, both domestically and internationally, to find solutions to short- and long-term challenges through research and innovation. In the words of famous biochemistry professor and author Isaac Asimov, “No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”


Michael Trentacoste

Associate Administrator, FHWA Office of Research, Development and Technology

Director, Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center




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