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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-15-023    Date:  December 2014
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-15-023
Date: December 2014


The Exploratory Advanced Research Program

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About Exploratory Advanced Research

Exploratory advanced research focuses on longer-term, higher–risk research with a high payoff potential. It matches opportunities from discoveries in science and technology with the needs of specific industries.

The uncertainties in the research approach and outcomes challenge organizations and researchers to be innovative problem–solvers, which can lead to new research techniques, instruments, and processes that can be applied to future high–risk and applied research projects.


Federal legislation establishes an Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program for transportation to address longer–term, higher– risk, breakthrough research with the potential for dramatic long-term improvements to transportation systems–improvements in planning, building, renewing, and operating safe, congestion–free, and environmentally sound transportation facilities. The Federal Hig hway A dministration's (FHWA) EAR Program secures broad scientific participation and extensive coverage of advanced ideas and new technologies through three key processes:

International Collaboration

Access to international expertise is critical for the EAR Program. In some research areas, governments, industries, and universities in other parts of the world have developed important advances that could be applied to U.S. highway transportation.

The FHWA EAR Program has engaged inter national experts by sponsoring scanning tours, convening forums, inviting expert reviewers, and offering postdoctoral research fellowships. FHWA expects to continue these ad hoc collaborations and to formalize longerterm relationships.


The EAR Program funds research across a range of issues that are critical to the transportation industry:

Connected Highway and Vehicle System ConceptsEmphasizes the longer—term needs to reach critical FHWA safety and mobility goals by developing the theory and assessing feasibility for systems that leapfrog current technological approaches for linking infrastructure with future vehicle and personal mobility technology.

Breakthrough Concepts in Material Science Leverages new approaches in materials science to produce innovative new highway materials with characteristics that enable enhanced functionality (including multifunctionality), constructability, sustainability, cost effectiveness or operating characteristics of highway infrastructure and system monitoring sensors to enhance highway safety, reliability, and resilience.

Human Behavior and Travel Choices—Leverages research concepts from the social sciences, including psychology and economics, along with more traditional research for improving safety, reducing congestion, and improving the livability of the Nation's communities

Technology for Assessing Performance — Seeks novel approaches and breakthrough technology that will revolutionize the use of performance management in the highway sector.

New Technology and Advanced Policies for Energy and Resource Conservation—Cuts across infrastructure, operations, and societal and complex natural systems to support innovative methods for reducing highway industry costs and moving toward sustainability.


The EAR Program strives to develop partnerships with the public and private sectors because the very nature of EAR is to apply ideas across traditional fields of research and stimulate new approaches to problem solving. Through seven solicitations, the EAR Program has awarded 75 projects involving both government and academic researchers. These projects represent the investment of $72 million in FHWA funds and leverage $26 million in matching funds.

The EAR Program bridges basic research (e.g., academic work funded by National Science Foundation grants) and applied research (e.g., studies funded by State departments of transportation). Research may include improved understanding of phenomena that can accelerate or allow for new lines of applied research. An example is a project called "Driver Behavior" in Traffic," in which investigators characterize driver behavior using naturalistic driving data and agent-based modeling techniques for development of effective strategies to improve transportation safety and operations. This work will assist in future safety research.

In addition to sponsoring EAR Program projects that advance the development of highway infrastructure and operations, the EAR Program is committed to promoting cross–fertilization with other technical fields, furthering promising lines of research, and deepening vital research capacity.

Research Leading to Environmentally Sustainable Transportation

The EAR Program funds research that will help the transportation industry to reach sustainability goals, for example:

  • Greatly Increased Use of Fly Ash in Hydraulic Cement Concrete for Pavement Layers and Transportation Structures
  • Innovative and Environmentally Beneficial Infrastructure Materials
  • Next Generation Energy Efficient Traffic Control Devices
  • New Technologies for Development of Renewable Energy in the Public Right-of-Way
  • A Remote, Self-Sustained System for Monitoring Water Quality near Highways


To take advantage of a broad variety of scientific and engineering discoveries, the EAR Program involves both traditional stakeholders (State department of transportation researchers, University Transportation Center researchers, and Transportation Research Board committee and panel members) and nontraditional stakeholders (investigators from private industry, related disciplines in academia, and research programs in other countries) throughout the research process. Since 2006, the EAR Program involved stakeholders throughout the following program activities:


For more information, see the EAR Program Web site at www.fhwa.dot.gov/advancedresearch. The site features information on research solicitations, updates on ongoing research, links to published materials, summaries of past EAR Program events, and details on upcoming events.

Visit the EAR Program website at www.fhwa.dot.gov/advancedresearch



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