U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

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

Laboratory Overview | Laboratory Physical Modeling | Laboratory Numerical(CFD) Modeling | Ongoing Laboratory Activities | Hydraulics Laboratory Personnel | Research Publications | Office of Bridge Technology: Hydraulics



J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Research Laboratory


National Hydraulics Research Program

The National Hydraulics Research Program includes the J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Laboratory at the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center. The Office of Infrastructure Research and Development’s Bridge Engineering Research Team (HRDI-40) is responsible for research related to the impacts of flooding on highway infrastructure.

The J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Laboratory has conducted research on highway hydraulics for more than 30 years. The Laboratory is a state-of-the-art research facility equipped with computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling capabilities. The Laboratory also has instrumentation and experimental testing equipment including a multifunctional flume system, force balance flume, and multiple soil-resistance testing devices that have improved significantly over the past several years. Past tasks for this library have included working on culvert hydraulics and aquatic organism issues, highway drainage concerns, and stream stability problems. The Laboratory has developed design standards for bridges that may become submerged in high flood risk areas and standards to prevent or combat the effects of scour around bridge piers and submerged bridge decks.

CFD modeling is conducted through collaboration with the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory Transportation Research and Analysis Computing Center. This collaboration allows access to high-performance cluster computing. Access to these clusters enables the Hydraulics Laboratory to solve highway hydraulics research problems more efficiently.


The photo shows a birds-eye view of the FHWA Hydraulics Laboratory. The tilting flume is on the left. Next to the tilting flume is the computational fluid dynamics (CFD) station, ex situ scour testing device (ESTD), in situ scour testing lab sump device, and the force balance flume (from top to bottom). From top-to-bottom on the right: soil sample preparation station, presentation station, and the fish passage culvert flume.
Figure 1. The FHWA's J. Sterling Jones Hydraulics Research Laboratory at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center.

Research Program

The Hydraulics Research Program is a part of the National Hydraulics Program and is coordinated with the National Hydraulics Team (NHT), including the Program Office (HQ), FHWA Resource Center, and Federal Lands Offices. The research program studies problems related to the six functional areas that were developed by NHT:

  • Hydrology and Extreme Weather
  • Highway Drainage
  • Culvert Hydraulics
  • Bridge Hydraulics
  • Scour, Steam Stability, and Scour Protection (Countermeasures)
  • Coastal Highways

Laboratory Organization

The Hydraulics Laboratory is divided into seven zones for better laboratory management, maintenance, and upgrade. The zones include:

  • Zone 1 – Multifunctional flume system
  • Zone 2 – Force balance flume system
  • Zone 3 – In situ scour testing device (ISTD), lab drill rig
  • Zone 4 – Lab soil erosion testing devices
  • Zone 5 – Particle image velocimetry (PIV), lasers, and cameras
  • Zone 6 – Laboratory office and 3D printing
  • Zone 7 – Laboratory machine shop

Figure 2. Hydraulics Laboratory zones
Figure 2. Hydraulics Laboratory zones


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