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Publication Number:      Date:  Nov/Dec 1997
Issue No: Vol. 61 No. 3
Date: Nov/Dec 1997


FHWA's International Technology Scanning Program

by Robert A. Ford and Donald A. Symmes

For many years, providing technical assistance to counterparts overseas was the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA's) primary international activity. Over time, agency engineers and technicians have been sent to more than 50 countries to help build highways with the finest of American know-how.

In the nineties, FHWA's international technology exchange activities have largely been reoriented to locating research and technology abroad that can be applied in the United States. Although this seems to be a switch in direction, FHWA and its predecessors, the Office of Public Road Inquiries and the Bureau of Public Roads, have been importing transportation-related information for more than 100 years.

At the time and through the turn of the century, the Department of State was enlisted to report on the latest and greatest of roads in Europe. Now that effort is led by FHWA's Office of International Programs in cooperation with a National Cooperative Highway Research Program panel on international programs, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and its newly formed Special Committee on International Activity Coordination, the Transportation Research Board, universities, and the private sector.

The need to remain economically and technologically competitive in the transportation sector contributed to FHWA's change in focus. The International Technology Scanning Program looks for the best and most appropriate technology, management practices, and research that can be cost-effectively adapted to U.S. federal, state, and local highway programs. Instead of "reinventing the wheel," this process enables advanced technology to be developed and put into practice more quickly, and it makes more efficient use of research funds. Ultimately, the program provides better, safer, and more environmentally sound roads to the American public by implementing the best practices developed abroad.

Teams of two or more specialists in a particular discipline are dispatched to consult with foreign counterparts in Europe, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada, where most of the advances in transportation relevant to the United States are being made. While the makeup of teams varies from one scanning review to another, participants usually represent state highway departments, transportation trade and research groups, the private sector, and academia, as well as FHWA.

Since the scanning program was launched in 1990, more than 20 sophisticated reviews on various surface transportation issues have been completed. In many instances, these reviews add depth and cohesion to research and practice in the United States. The process and findings generally complement and enhance the existing knowledge base in the U.S. highway community, often putting innovations on the fast track to deployment.

The first scanning tour, conducted in 1990, was a management review of European asphalt practices. FHWA's subsequent technical evaluation efforts have led to nationwide use of stone matrix asphalt. The preliminary findings of a follow-up evaluation of 80 demonstration projects indicate that stone matrix asphalt is an effective high-performance pavement with a low potential for rutting, thereby reducing maintenance costs.

More recently, scanning tours of pavement technologies in South Africa in 1996 found several potential applications for the United States. The South Africans have developed unique granular base pavement surfaces, Accelerated Pavement Testing techniques, and pavement instrumentation methods and equipment that complement and in some cases surpass those available in the United States. FHWA is holding a joint U.S./South Africa pavement workshop during 1998 and plans to construct two test sections of pavement in the United States, applying South African technology.

A technology scanning tour of winter road maintenance practices in Western Europe and Japan produced important benefits for states undertaking winter road maintenance in colder climes. Many of the significant findings involved remarkably simple adjustments to equipment or materials. Prewetting and using finer grades of snow and ice control materials for anti-icing operations results in keeping more of the material on the road and saves up to 30 percent of the amount of abrasives and dry chemicals normally used. A canvas shield affixed to a conventional snow plow diverts the overspray under the truck, protecting the radiator and the wind- shield. This minor addition markedly improves visibility for the snowplow operator and extends the life of windshields and radiators. Several states, including Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, initiated new winter maintenance technology learned from the scanning trip. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is developing a prototype rear-loading snow blower with a grant from FHWA. This technique, observed in Japan and Europe, facilitates snow removal in areas with limited storage space.

Findings of the Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety Study Tour in Europe helped several cities, including Hutchinson, Minn., and Phoenix, expand their accommodation of bicycle and pedestrian traffic in their road planning and implementation.

The Hutchinson project was a cooperative effort involving FHWA, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the city of Hutchinson, and experts from Finland. This project seeks to improve safety and to encourage cycling and walking in Hutchinson by implementing some of the strategies and facilities from the scanning trip.

In Phoenix, an Arizona state highway official who participated in the scanning tour was instrumental in overcoming reservations and showing how bicycles and pedestrians can be wholly integrated into the city's transportation system. Phoenix added 100 kilometers of biking paths and lanes. The city's 400 buses were equipped with bicycle racks and now carry nearly 2,000 bicycles a day. As a result, Phoenix was selected by Bicycling Magazine as one of the top 10 cities in the United States for biking.

In August and September 1997, FHWA and AASHTO led three scanning tours to look at transportation agency organization and management issues, bridge structures in Asia, and highway-rail crossings on high-speed lines. Preliminary findings from those scan tours are expected to be issued in early 1998.

Four more international technology scans are scheduled in fiscal year 1998. Those tours will cover: (1) improved road safety through intelligent technology systems application, (2) Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) improvements, (3) geotechnology, and (4) a second scan of winter maintenance practices.

As with previous scanning programs, these reviews are expected to produce specific recommenciations for the highv, ay community in the United States. Eventually, they will spur further research and demonstration projects and will be put into practice across the country, creating better roads for the American traveler.



Construction yard
Scanning tour participants visited the pier-base production site for the 12.9-kilometer Northumberland Strait Crossing connecting the Canadian provinces of new Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. This bridge construction project offered the scanning team an opportunity to study complex engineering and environmental challenges, as well as innovative public-private financing and management partnerships. The pier bases are 22 meters in diameter at the bottom, stand between 25 and 43 meters, and weigh up to 5,000 tons.


Cross-section of enclosed bridge model.
Technical cross-section diagram of Britain's Second Severn Crossing. Linking England and Wales across the Severn Estuary, the crossing is a 456-meter main cable-stayed bridge with approach viaducts, each of which is more than two kilometers long.


Retaining wall
The tunnel portal stabilization wall near Nice, France, was built as a permanent soil-nailed wall with precast face panels. The face panels have concrete planter boxes cast into them. This installation was observed during the geotechnology soil-nailing scan, which later resulted in a U.S.-France joint research program on soil-nailing technologies.
Bicycle doors
Bicycle stencils on the inside and outside of Danish State Railway trains indicate the doors through which bikes may enter and exit

Scanning Tour Reports

Free copies of FHWA reports from 21 scanning tours are available from the Office of International Programs. Send your request via e-mail to international@fhwa.dot.gov or via fax to (202) 366-9626 or by writing to:


Office of International Programs

FHWA/DOT, Room 3327

400 Seventh Street SW

Washington, DC 20590

Please include the specific report names in your request.

  1. European Asphalt (1990).
  2. European Concrete Highways (1992).
  3. Geotechnology - Soil Nailing (October 1992).
  4. Contract Administration Techniques for Quality Enhancement (September 1993.)
  5. Intermodal Transportation Issues (September 1993).
  6. Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety (September 1993).
  7. National Personal Transportation Studies (October 1993).
  8. Advanced Technology Applications (November 1993).
  9. Safety Management Systems (June 1994).
  10. International Decision-Making Criteria for Highway Investment.
  11. Issues and Options in Highway/Commercial Vehicle Interaction North America (September 1994) and Europe (April 1995).
  12. Speed Management/Enforcement, Equipment, and Practices (April 1995).
  13. Human Factors Technology for Highway Design (May 1995).
  14. Bridge Structure - Europe (June 1995).
  15. Northumberland Bridge (Canada) - Structures Technology, Financing, and Environmental Considerations (September 1995).
  16. Bridge Coatings Issues (October 1995).
  17. Traffic Management and Traveler Information Systems (December 1995).
  18. Technology and Practices in the Republic of South Africa (May 1996).
  19. Traffic Monitoring (June 1996).
  20. Repair/Rehabilitation of Bridges Using Fiber-Reinforced Composite Materials (October 1996).
  21. Roadway Safety Audits (October 1996).

Robert A. Ford is the chief of the International Cooperation Division, Office of International Programs, FHWA. He has been with the Office of International Programs since 1989 and with FHWA as a highway engineer since 1967. He holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Wyoming and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Kansas.

Donald G. Symmes is the manager of the International Technology Scanning Program and a transportation specialist in the International Cooperation Division, Office of International Programs, FHWA. He has worked in the Office of International Programs and been involved in international highway technology exchange since 1982. He has a bachelor's degree in economics from Tufts University and a master's degree in economics from the University of Washington.



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