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Public Roads - Autumn 2019

Autumn 2019
Issue No:
Vol. 83 No. 3
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Learning from International Perspectives

by Jihan Noizet

The United States and the Republic of Korea have a long-standing program to exchange transportation knowledge and ideas.

Technology is evolving rapidly in the highway transportation industry. One way to help keep pace is for transportation agencies to share knowledge and successes—even between countries.

The Binational Relations Programs team of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of International Programs facilitates and coordinates exchanging knowledge with transportation professionals around the globe. Government-to-government relations between FHWA and the Republic of Korea's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT) are one such arrangement that has provided tangible and intangible benefits over the span of more than 2 decades.

The United States and the Republic of Korea have much to offer each other during personnel exchanges that include annual workshops and site visits.

Beginning with an agreement signed in 1995, the Federal road agencies of the United States and the Republic of Korea have exchanged innovative and time-tested ideas for improving roadway-related infrastructure, highway design concepts, planning techniques, construction procedures, roadway safety, and traffic operations. The program relies on workshops, site visits, and personnel exchanges to enable each nation's technical staff to share their knowledge and improve their country's transportation practices.


Annual workshops are the cornerstone of the program with the Republic of Korea. During these multiday events, technical experts and leaders from both agencies present best practices and share the latest technological innovations. The two countries alternate hosting responsibilities, creating an opportunity for professionals to experience each country's highway system in person.

"Various aspects of a country, such as its culture, the mindset of the people, its natural environment, and economic situation are reflected in the roads of that country," says Jiwon Oh, a visiting research engineer from the Republic of Korea.

Workshop presentations have covered a wide range of highway transportation topic areas, including policy, planning, standards, funding and financing, data analysis tools and methods, infrastructure design, operations, safety, construction and materials, maintenance, asset management, sustainability and resilience, and information technology services. Each presentation brings a unique perspective and inventory of knowledge that benefits the attendees. Workshop participants discuss new possibilities and challenges, brainstorm solutions and improvements, and return home with new ideas, methods, and concepts to further explore in the context of their home country's highway system needs.

For example, during the 2015 workshop in Washington, DC, the attendees from the United States learned about MOLIT's automated bridge inspection technology, which is used on the Republic of Korea's expressway structures. The automated system provides safe and convenient working conditions, makes inspections faster and more efficient, ensures objectivity and reliability, and builds an integrated scientific database. The system uses a remote control system called the Ubiquitous Bridge Inspection Robot System (U-BIROS), which generates an inspection report.

Site Visits

Site visits are an essential element of the annual workshop, and previous participants identified them as the most practical and impactful activity. Through the program, participants have explored more than 30 engineering projects in both countries.

In 2016, the Korean Expressway Corporation organized a trip to an expressway where the attendees observed rockfall and land stabilization measures. The stabilization system is unique to the Republic of Korea, and the visit provided an important opportunity for U.S. participants to study the distinctive approach. The design of the reinforced concrete for the anchoring system could provide several advantages over the traditional reinforced concrete block used in the United States. U.S. engineers and transportation professionals took the knowledge home to investigate further.

Past site visits have offered hands-on information about infrastructure inspection and management, bridge engineering, roadway design, traffic operations and safety, and construction engineering. The experience of seeing onsite demonstrations, new technologies, and prototypes in person stimulates discussion on how to implement and improve each country's highway transportation system. The face-to-face collaboration enables participants to more effectively address the nuanced complexity of issues faced by both agencies.

Personnel Exchanges

Extended interaction between participants of both agencies and exposure to each other's working environments enables personnel to share indepth information about highway system-related strengths, challenges, and processes. During a personnel exchange, employees from FHWA and MOLIT undertake extended assignments in their counterpart's transportation agency, fully immersed in the agency's culture. While an FHWA employee has spent time at MOLIT, the exchanges have primarily involved MOLIT representatives working in the United States for 18 to 24 months. These exchanges bring in experts with new and fresh perspectives, enabling both parties to expand their knowledge base by sharing experiences and collaborating on solutions.

Representatives from FHWA and MOLIT attend a presentation and discussion during one of the annual workshops.

For example, through the exchanges, FHWA has gained information on construction engineering and steel prefabricated construction and systems—areas where MOLIT has extensive expertise. An FHWA engineer visiting the Republic of Korea also learned about MOLIT's bridge maintenance and preservation program.

In addition, time spent immersed in the transportation culture of another country helps both parties identify knowledge gaps in their respective programs. One example is the advanced connected vehicle programs of the United States and the Republic of Korea. The exchange engineer can provide insights and coordinate activities between the two agencies that support the development of global connected and autonomous vehicle interoperability standards.

Engineers involved in these extended personnel exchanges return home with the ability to benchmark the capabilities of their transportation systems against those they visited. Doing so reveals areas where improvements are possible and where leveraging the knowledge of another transportation organization can assist in the improvements.

"Transportation challenges are similar around the world," says Randy Iwasaki, the executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority and formerly the chief deputy director at the California Department of Transportation, who participated in the program under the auspices of FHWA as a subject matter expert providing a State DOT perspective. "This program provides a great opportunity to learn how our colleagues in the Republic of Korea are using innovative transportation methods and solutions that we can also apply to improve the life of our infrastructure."

Program Benefits

Although technology has made a constantly changing world more connected than ever before, the ability to question, collaborate, and troubleshoot in person is invaluable. Workshops, site visits, and personnel exchanges enable both countries to collaborate, share, and grow their technical knowledge by providing a platform with a variety of benefits.

Benchmark Transportation Practices and Technologies

Through the program, the agencies can benchmark advances in every aspect of transportation engineering and infrastructure and collect ideas for how to improve transportation practices in their home countries.

Collaborate Face-To-Face

In-person collaboration enables participants to discuss technical hurdles, describe complex issues, and convey field-tested solutions to roadway and infrastructure challenges.

Provide In-Person Technical Assistance

Site visits enable participants to observe each country's state-of-the-art practices firsthand and ask technical questions that would be difficult to communicate remotely.

Learn Hands-On Through Site Visits

These in-the-field knowledge exchanges, which are not possible remotely, provide valuable insight that can only be gained through hands-on experience. During one visit, FHWA personnel observed MOLIT's next generation of transportation management centers and how the agency handles the growing congestion challenge in its capital city, Seoul.

Immerse Engineers in Another Country's Technical Environment

Engineers from other countries approach problems differently. The exchange program enables transportation professionals from both countries to brainstorm new solutions for tackling problems together. Full immersion ensures exchange engineers are integrated into the hosting agency, enabling their unique perspectives and innovative ideas to have the most impact.

For example, during one residency in FHWA's Office of Safety, a MOLIT engineer learned about FHWA's proven safety countermeasures—roundabouts and high-friction pavement treatments in particular. MOLIT plans to use this information to broaden and improve the use of these countermeasures in the Republic of Korea.

Each element of the program offers unique benefits. Workshops create a designated time and space for the two countries to exchange knowledge on a multitude of highway transportation topics. Site visits offer hands-on opportunities for participants to learn about the highway features unique to the systems in the United States and the Republic of Korea. Personnel exchanges provide the benefit of learning through cultural immersion and extended experience in the processes and systems of the host nation.

Workshop participants attend a site visit in Chicago in 2001.

"This combination of activities enables the program to be broad enough to capture a wide array of transportation specialties but specific enough to enable engineers to dig into the weeds and tackle challenging technical issues across country lines," says Alfred Logie of FHWA's Office of International Programs.

Site visits, like this one in Seoul in 2002, are a key component of the information exchanges between the United States and the Republic of Korea. Participants highly value these onsite experiences.

Collaborating for Continued Success

The knowledge exchange program between FHWA and MOLIT has created a collaborative, symbiotic environment that benefits the transportation infrastructure and practices of both countries. These formal interactions have led to better highway transportation systems, stronger ties, informal exchanges, and greater collaboration between transportation professionals in both countries.

Myint Lwin, former FHWA director of bridge technology, says, "Learning and sharing globally will lead to integration of best practices in assuring safety to the traveling public and good stewardship of public funds."

Jihan Noizet is a transportation specialist in FHWA's Office of International Programs and oversees the coordination and implementation of cooperative program activities between FHWA and its foreign counterparts. She holds a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of North Texas, and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Texas at Dallas.

For more information, contact Jihan Noizet at or 206–366–1153, or download the Synthesis Report of the FHWA and the MOLIT Knowledge Exchange Since 1995 (FHWA-PL-18-041) at