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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-17-002     Date:  January/February 2017
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-17-002
Issue No: Vol. 80 No. 4
Date: January/February 2017


Guest Editorial

Laying the Groundwork for Innovation

Photo. Headshot of Sophie Shulman, Acting Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology, U.S. Department of Transportation.The theme for the 2017 annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) is Transportation Innovation: Leading the Way in an Era of Rapid Change. This focus presents a timely opportunity to look toward the future of the Nation’s transportation system and some of the driving forces for innovation.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices kick-started a national conversation on the transportation decisions that need to be made over the next three decades. The report underscores critical decisions facing the country, framed by data-driven analyses, expert opinions, and public engagement.

In an effort to address the challenges raised in Beyond Traffic through research and innovation, USDOT has advanced more than $350 million in forward-looking technology deployment partnerships over the past year through the Smart City Challenge, the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program, and the Mobility on Demand Sandbox.

Just over a year ago, President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act--the first legislation in more than 10 years that provides long-term funding certainty for surface transportation. The FAST Act offers a springboard for research advancements.

Today’s research propels tomorrow’s innovation. All facets of transportation--from planning to construction, operations, maintenance, and environmental stewardship--benefit from well-designed and well-funded research and technology programs. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology increases opportunities for cross-modal collaboration on research, while upholding the integrity and impartiality of statistical data.

One of the office’s key charges in the FAST Act is refreshing the planning and coordination of the agency’s research. Through targeted interactions with TRB and its broader stakeholder community, the office has collaborated with USDOT’s modal administrations to create the next 5-year Research, Development, and Technology Strategic Plan and annual modal research plans. These resources are available on the “Research and Technology” Web site at www.transportation.gov/research-technology.

In December, Secretary Foxx announced $300 million in grants to 32 University Transportation Centers (UTCs). Nine of the grantees selected through the competition are new recipients of UTC Program grants. Thirty partners in the grantee consortia are minority-serving institutions, and seven partners are 2-year institutions. UTCs work with regional, State, and local transportation agencies and private sector partners to help find solutions to challenges that directly impact their communities and affect the efficiency of the Nation’s transportation system, as well as to educate the next generation of transportation leaders.

Transportation connects people--and connections provide economic opportunity and social mobility. The emergence of driverless cars, unmanned package deliveries, smart cities, and other exciting changes demonstrates how innovative technology is playing a key role in ensuring the system’s safety and reliability, while offering more Americans the ability to access economic opportunity. The new National Transit Map, recently published by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, offers a nationwide catalog of fixed-guideway and fixed-route transit service, further facilitating the conversation about access to opportunity.

Collectively, the people of this great Nation have proven to be our finest assets. When innovative and creative research hits the road, there is no limit to what we can accomplish.

Sophie Shulman
Acting Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology
U.S. Department of Transportation




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