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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-14-091    Date:  September 2014
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-14-091
Date: September 2014


The FHWA 2015 R&T Story

Telling the FHWA 2015 R&T Story


The U.S. has built one of the world’s greatest transportation systems. With more than 600,000 bridges and 8.5 million lane miles, the system is large, complex, and aging.1

The U.S. highway transportation system is called the backbone of America because the Nation’s economic future depends on its ability to efficiently and safely move people and goods across the country.

U.S. transportation agencies are challenged to make the system more efficient using existing infrastructure and funding resources, while improving travel times and safety. The goal of transportation research is to develop solutions to the Nation’s most pressing challenges and find transformative opportunities that will meet future needs.

The responsibility of the federal government is to fund and conduct R&T activities of national interest that will lead to finding solutions to highway transportation issues and significantly advance technology innovation with a clear public benefit when private investment is neither present nor sufficient. FHWA coordinates with State departments of transportation (DOTs), and local agencies, industry, and academia because, in addition to conducting research, those agencies are responsible for deploying and implementing research products and innovations on State and local transportation systems.2

This FHWA 2015 R&T Story presents some of the national highway transportation challenges, and discusses how the research and innovations conducted or sponsored by FHWA address these challenges and contribute to changes and improvements in the transportation system. This document also highlights a variety of research projects and activities that demonstrate FHWA’s positive and long-lasting impact on the national highway transportation system.

Highlighting Impacts of Research


This figure illustrates a finished 7-inch white topping surface with pavement marking that was completed as part of an FHWA Highways for LIFE supported pavement rehabilitation with North Dakota DOT. (Image source: FHWA)
This finished 7-inch whitetopping surface with pavement marking was completed as part of an FHWA Highways for LIFE supported pavement rehabilitation with North Dakota DOT. (Image source: FHWA)


This figure illustrates how FHWA’s bridge replacement research has reduced construction times, decreasing congestion and increasing the mobility of goods and passenger travel. (Image source: FHWA)
FHWA’s bridge replacement research has reduced construction times, decreasing congestion and increasing the mobility of goods and passenger travel. (Image source: FHWA)


The full impact of transportation research and innovations is usually realized over years or decades as the products are implemented across the transportation system and advance the state of the practice. Research results, when implemented appropriately, can save millions of dollars, save lives, extend the life of highway infrastructure, reduce congestion, improve travel time, increase productivity, and positively affect the environment. FHWA’s research, guidance, and efforts provide State DOTs and local agencies with the leadership and support needed to address new and shifting challenges.

Showcasing Research of National Significance through the FHWA R&T Agenda

Within FHWA, hundreds of research projects are underway to develop innovations and solve the country’s pressing transportation problems. Because transportation comprises many disciplines, from human factors to structural engineering to environmental and safety planning and engineering, an extensive depth and breadth of knowledge is necessary to address the challenges facing our transportation system.

The FHWA R&T Agenda was developed to communicate a comprehensive plan for the Agency. The plan provides a collaborative platform to address national transportation challenges and transparency into research activities. Stakeholder input also enables a deeper understanding of the challenges and issues at the local and State levels.

The FHWA 2015 R&T Story provides a framework for how FHWA research will meet six of the Nation’s high-priority highway challenges:

Addressing these six challenges requires the cooperation and collaboration of numerous stakeholders in the public and private sectors, academia, industry, and the international community. FHWA has developed partnerships with many of these stakeholders, offering a way for transportation stakeholders to become involved with and contribute to developing a stronger transportation network.

The remainder of this FHWA 2015 R&T Story highlights six key challenges facing the Nation’s transportation network, and demonstrates how FHWA R&T solutions advance the Nation’s mobility, well-being, and economic security.

Leading Highway Research Across the Globe

A Culture of Innovation at Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center

FHWA’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) in McLean, VA, plays a vital leadership role in developing and implementing coordinated highway R&T with other research entities within the U.S. and internationally.

TFHRC houses more than 20 laboratories, data centers, and support facilities; and conducts and sponsors applied and exploratory advanced research on vehicle-highway interaction, nanotechnology, safety, pavements, bridges and other highway structures, human-centered systems, operations and intelligent transportation systems (ITS), and materials. Researchers and engineers with expertise in a variety of disciplines (e.g., engineering, chemistry, and psychology) support TFHRC’s mission.

TFHRC not only delivers cutting-edge in-house research, but also collaborates with a wide range of researchers across the Nation and around the world. The center’s laboratories provide FHWA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) modal agencies, other Federal agencies, and State DOTs and local agencies with vital resources for advancing the body of transportation knowledge. TFHRC actively engages in formal collaborations with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the Transportation Research Board (TRB), and the Forum of European National Highway Research Laboratories. In addition, there are informal collaborations with researchers in U.S. companies, academia, and other federal and local agencies, resulting in joint peer-reviewed papers and shared research methods. TFHRC also engages in cooperative research and development (R&D) agreements with the private sector and academia to explore and build new highway-related technologies. To work on projects of mutual interest, TFHRC hosts visiting researchers from a variety of organizations.

Through the National Research Council Research Associateship Program, TFHRC sponsors postdoctoral and senior research associates who work closely with center staff on research that is relevant to FHWA’s challenges and contributes to the associates’ professional development. The program attracts skilled associates at the cutting edge in their disciplines, and allows FHWA to focus associates’ talents on significant problems. Many associates continue working in transportation research and contribute to the Agency’s research after finishing the program.

With TFHRC providing research, development, and technology management, the FHWA R&T Agenda articulates the objectives that guide the Agency’s research, development, and deployment activities to strengthen and improve the National Highway System. The FHWA 2015 R&T Story also identifies the strategies that FHWA is pursuing to achieve those objectives, and selected activities that target one or more of the Nation’s six key highway challenges. Take a look at the following research highlights that contribute to enhancing and improving the national transportation system.

Accelerating Innovation, Every Day Counts

In 2009, FHWA launched Every Day Counts (EDC) in cooperation with the AASHTO to speed up the delivery of highway projects and to address the challenges presented by limited budgets. EDC is a State-based model to identify and rapidly deploy proven but underutilized innovations to shorten the project delivery process, enhance roadway safety, reduce congestion and improve environmental sustainability. A key component of implementing new technology is nurturing a State-based network for the deployment of innovation. To support this concept the FHWA established the State Transportation Innovation Council (STIC) Incentive Program and the Demonstration Project Program to help States institutionalize innovations and meet their innovation deployment goals.

For More Information

The following Web sites provide additional information and further highlight the transportation challenges and FHWA activities discussed above.

Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil Integrated Bridge System, Synthesis Report: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/infrastructure/structures/11027/11027.pdf.

Safety EdgeSM technology: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/everydaycounts/technology/safetyedge/intro.cfm.

Warm Mix Asphalt Technologies and Research: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/pavement/asphalt/wma.cfm. Prefabricated Bridge Elements: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/everydaycounts/technology/bridges/intro.cfm.

Diverging Diamond Interchange FHWA YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLAwwl3EtN4.

Project Finance Primer: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ipd/finance/resources/general/.

Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR): http://www.volpe.dot.gov/work-with-us/small-business-innovation-research.

AP Story—Inventor Pushes Solar Panels for Roads, Highways: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/inventor-pushes-solar-panelsroads-highways.

Every Day Counts: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/everydaycounts/

State Transportation Councils: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/stic/.


1 Federal Highway Administration (2011). “Our Nation’s Highways: 2011.” (Web page) Washington, DC. Accessed online: September 9, 2014. (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/pubs/hf/pl11028/chapter1.cfm)

2 Transportation Research Board (2008). TRB Special Report 295, The Federal Investment in Highway Research, 2006–2009: Strengths and Weaknesses. Transportation Research Board, Washington, DC.

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