U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
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Washington, DC 20590

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

Ongoing Research


Managers and staff at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are responsible for research and technology (R&T), particularly in functional areas that develop and set the research and technology (R&T) agenda for that subject, focus, or program area. These functional areas reflect Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA's) mission, support strategic goals, and engage internal and external stakeholders. The R&T Leadership Team agrees on functional area agendas. From there, an R&T network develops and deploys a portfolio of R&T innovations.

Click one of the following research areas for more information about ongoing research.

Planning, Environment, and Realty
Federal Lands and Tribal Transportation

For a comprehensive overview of current research and technology development activities being conducted at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC), visit the research section of the FHWA's Web site. For a listing of TFHRC research activities, visit the Project Overview page of the TFHRC Web site.

The FHWA sponsors the Transportation Pooled Fund Program for interested States, FHWA, and other organizations to establish a partnership when significant or widespread interest is shown in solving transportation-related problems. Partners may pool funds and other resources to solve these problems using research, planning, and technology-transfer activities. More information can be found at  https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/research/partnership/pooledfund/ or at http://www.pooledfund.org/.


Infrastructure Research

Context Sensitive Design

The Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders in developing a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic, and environmental resources while maintaining safety and mobility. CSS is an approach that considers the total context within which a transportation improvement project will exist. For more information, visit the new CSS webpage.


Surface Utility Engineering

For many years, the inability to obtain reliable underground utility information has been a troublesome problem for highway designers in the United States. Now, there is a solution--subsurface utility engineering.


Pedestrian and Accessible Design

The Office of Program Administration is concerned with the design of the pedestrian environment in the public right-of-way for individuals with disabilities. Curb cut ramps for wheelchair users have been required at pedestrian crossings on Federal-aid projects for many years. U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) have adopted the Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG) as standards. These accessibility standards currently only apply to buildings and sites.


Material Technology Research

FHWA is constantly looking for new materials and methods to improve the quality of the Nation's highway system. The Agency's efforts involve in-house and contract-sponsored research on areas such as bridge coatings, asphalt concrete and asphalt binders, portland cement concrete, high-performance materials for bridge construction, and waste and byproduct materials

Pavements Research

Improving pavement performance is a complex and ongoing challenge. The pavement research teams in the Office of Infrastructure Research and Development (R&D) are working to address this challenge through a combination of staff and contractor R&D. Staff research is conducted in the laboratories of the TFHRC. Contract research is conducted by a broad array of consultants, academic institutions, and private industry research organizations.


Asset Management

The mission of FHWA's Office of Asset Management is to provide leadership and expertise in the systematic management of highway infrastructure assets. The office has three primary responsibilities:

  • Provide national leadership in asset management principles for highway program administration.
  • Develop asset management policies for pavement, bridge, and system preservation.
  • Partner with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), additional FHWA offices, and others to conduct nationwide programs.


Bridge Technology and Asset Management

The National Bridge Inventory shows that more than 480,000 bridges and 110,000 tunnels and culverts serve U.S. highways. The average age of existing bridges is 42 years. In the coming decades, new bridges will replace many of these spans, but in the meantime, bridge owners need cost-efficient ways to maintain and preserve the existing bridges until they are rebuilt.

Future stewardship and preservation will require new research and technology, and innovative tools, strategies, and management practices. The transportation community also must provide breakthroughs in technologies for repairing and rehabilitating bridges quickly to minimize the duration and public impact of work zones. Other research needs include technologies for detecting the conditions of bridge decks at highway speeds and methodologies to assess the conditions of concrete decks with overlays. Finally, improved modeling for life cycle cost analyses could lead to cost-effective strategies and techniques for preventive maintenance that extend and optimize service life.


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Operations Research

Creating a Foundation for 21st Century Operations

As the Nation moves further into the 21st century, realizing the social and economic benefits of good system performance means operating the transportation system better by having various aspects work in harmony with one other. This can be accomplished through the development of a foundation for 21st century operations that consists of the diligent application of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technologies, better planning for operations, and performance measures to chart success. TFHRC's Operations and ITS research team conducts research on the application of cutting-edge technologies to move people and goods faster and more safely.


Reducing Non-Recurring Congestion

Nonrecurring congestion includes the development and deployment of strategies designed to mitigate traffic congestion due to nonrecurring causes such as crashes, disabled vehicles, work zones, adverse weather events, and planned special events. Approximately half of congestion is nonrecurring congestion, which is caused by temporary disruptions that take part of the roadway out of use.


Reducing Recurring Congestion

Recurring congestion includes the development and deployment of traffic control and travel demand management strategies designed to mitigate congestion on highway facilities during peak travel periods. Roughly half of the congestion experienced in the United States happens virtually every day or is "recurring." This type of congestion happens when there are simply more vehicles than roadway.


Improving Day-to-Day Operations

Operations agencies in the 21st century operations often concern themselves with how well the transportation system performs every day. Effective highway-based transportation consists of three components: building the infrastructure, preserving the operating capacity by managing operations on a day-to-day basis, and preserving the infrastructure. "Operations" is an integrated approach to managing the performance of the transportation network to meet the end-to-end travel needs of the customer.


Improving Global Connectivity by Enhancing Freight Management and Operations

The smooth flow of freight is important to the economy and to maintaining global connectivity. As demand for freight transportation grows, concerns intensify about congestion, safety, and security. Accordingly, the freight program focuses on promoting an efficient, safe, and secure intermodal freight transportation system. The freight program conducts research and analysis on freight flows, develops analytical tools, tests and evaluates new technologies, measures system performance, and examines the relationship between freight transportation and the economy.


Emergency Transportation Operations

The surface transportation system is vital to the American economy, defense, and quality of life. The need to ensure the function and integrity of the surface transportation system became clear following the events of September 11, 2001. Effective transportation operational strategies both during and after an event (manmade or natural) are key to ensuring safe and continuous movement of people and goods during an emergency.


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Safety Research

Intersection Safety

A strategic goal of FHWA is to work closely with all safety partners to heighten driver awareness about highway safety measures. Safety is a shared responsibility, and all drivers need to recognize, understand, and take advantage of the safety features that are built into roadways.


Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety

Livable communities that support bicycling and walking are a high priority of the U.S. Department of Transportation. A livable community is one that provides safe and convenient transportation choices to all citizens, whether it's by walking, bicycling, transit, or driving. Unfortunately, each year thousands of pedestrians and bicyclists are killed on our roadways.  Pedestrian and bicyclist safety improvements depend on an integrated approach that involves the four Es: Engineering, Enforcement, Education, and Emergency Services. The FHWA's Office of Safety develops projects, programs and materials for use in reducing pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities.


Roadway Departure Safety

Of the 35,092 people killed on U.S. highways in 2015, almost 17,000 died when their vehicles left their lanes and crashed. In some cases, the vehicle crossed the centerline and was involved in a head-on crash or opposite direction sideswipe. In others, the vehicle encroached onto the shoulder and beyond to roll over or impact one or more natural or manmade objects, such as utility poles, bridge walls, embankments, guardrails, parked vehicles, or trees.


Older Road Users

FHWA's Office of Safety is committed to providing for the needs and capabilities of older drivers and pedestrians using the Nation's highways. Research indicates that practitioners will encounter challenges when making decisions concerning the safety needs of older drivers. Problems associated with their vision, fitness and flexibility, attention span, and reaction time when driving and walking must be considered.


Human Factors

Researchers at TFHRC conduct human factors work in several major safety areas: connected vehicles (including vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure systems), vehicle automation, distraction, signage, and intersection safety. Researchers examine drivers' capabilities and limitations behind the wheel. Other topics of study include older drivers, traffic management centers, user characteristics, and visibility.


Highway Safety Information System

Highway engineers and administrators are continually faced with decisions concerning the design and operation of the highway system. An important part of the decisionmaking process is the potential impact on the safety of the highway users. Informed decisionmaking requires an understanding of how safety is affected by the geometric design of the roadway, the selection and placement of roadside hardware, the use of traffic control measures, the size and performance capabilities of the vehicles, and the needs and abilities of the users. This understanding can be developed through sound analysis of information about crashes, roadway geometrics, traffic control devices, traffic volume data, and the location of hardware and obstacles on the roadside. These data must be present in computerized files and easily linked so that data can be rapidly assembled and prepared for analysis.


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Planning Environment and Realty Research

The Office of Planning, Environment, and Realty's (HEP) research activities support program and policy objectives that help the FHWA create the best transportation system in the world. The research primarily addresses topics associated with comprehensive intermodal and multi-modal transportation planning, enhancement of community and social benefits of highway transportation, and improvements to the quality of the natural and human environment, by reducing highway-related impacts and by protecting and enhancing ecosystems. Additionally, research on the fair and prudent acquisition and management of real property is carried out. Research is categorized under three disciplines and further divided into five offices, Planning, Project Development and Environmental Review, Human Environment, Natural Environment and Real Estate Services.


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Policy Research

Transportation policy research involves studies to support the formulation of transportation policy and legislative initiatives and the preparation of major reports to U.S. Congress on highway policy issues. Transportation policy research also may involve monitoring and forecasting economic, demographic, and personal/commercial travel trends.


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Federal Lands and Tribal Transportation

Approximately 30 percent of the land in the United States is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government. The Federal Lands and Tribal Transportation Program (FLTTP) was established in October 2012, and continued under the FAST Act. The Federal Land Management Agencies (FLMAs) include: the Bureau of Indian Affairs, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, U.S. Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Navy, Tennessee Valley Authority, and the Bureau of Reclamation.


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Find an Expert


Quick Links

» Strategic Approach
In 2003, FHWA leadership accepted the challenge to "raise the bar" on R&T and adopted a strategic management framework developed with input from stakeholders. See Corporate Master Plan (CMP) for Research and Deployment of Technology & Innovation (FHWA-RD-03-077)


Research and Development Links

» R&D Laboratories
» R&D Projects


Other Links

» Transportation Research Information Services
» TRB Research in Progress Search
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center | 6300 Georgetown Pike | McLean, VA | 22101