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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation
Date:
Autumn 2022
Issue No:
Vol. 86 No. 3
Publication Number:
FHWA-HRT-23-001
Table of Contents

International Lessons Lead to U.S. Successes

by Lori Porreca and Jihan Noizet
"A bridge over a body of water. Image Source: FHWA."
The Arthur Ravenel Bridge is a long-span cable-stayed bridge over the Cooper River in Charleston, SC. Cable-stayed bridges like this one became more common in the United States after an HPIP-organized 1999 Scan and are now the most widely used bridge type for major long-span U.S. bridges.

Around the world, countries face many of the same transportation concerns. Best practices and lessons learned in other nations can help address U.S. challenges. The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Office of International Programs (HPIP) works to access, promote, and disseminate global best practices and new technologies that improve the safety and efficiency of the U.S. transportation system. HPIP’s understanding of cultural and political differences between nations and its expertise in managing cross-border relationships has fostered a culture of collaboration among transportation agencies around the world.

HPIP’s work has led to many measurable benefits for our Nation. HPIP programs have helped to identify and disseminate an extensive list of transportation technologies and best practices in the United States. Many of the technologies studied abroad through HPIP programs have also helped shape transportation planning and design practices throughout the Nation, enhancing road safety, and the state of the U.S. transportation system. For example, modern roundabouts, as learned through HPIP, have improved the safety of intersections and reduced project costs in the United States. A single-lane roundabout has only eight conflict points, compared to 32 in a traditional four-way intersection. A 2002 study by the Maryland State Highway Administration found that at 15 locations where roundabouts replaced traditional intersections, the crash rate fell by 60 percent, and the injury crash rate fell by 82 percent.

HPIP’s Programs and Impact

The three main programs of the office are the Binational Relations Program, the Multinational Relations Program, and the International Visitors Program.

The Binational Relations Program focuses on government-to-government relations and activities designed to exchange best practices and technologies for high priority topics including, but not limited to, bridge design, pedestrian safety, climate change, and transportation infrastructure resilience. These programs facilitate exchanges that are practical, implementable, and beneficial to all participants. FHWA currently has active relationships with Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, Sweden, and Switzerland. Though some relationships are long standing, new relationships emerge as FHWA priorities change and/or new innovations come along.

The Multinational Relations Program includes the Global Benchmarking Program (GBP) (formerly known as the International Scanning Program or “Scan”) and participation in the World Road Association (PIARC) and other multinational groups. The GBP is a tool to bring global innovations into the Nation’s transportation system. The program focuses on acquiring and adopting proven foreign technologies and best practices that directly support U.S. Department of Transportation and FHWA priorities. To accomplish this goal, the GBP forms teams made up of Federal, State, and local subject matter experts that conduct focused study missions to countries with valuable information in a particular subject area. These studies allow participants to observe innovations firsthand and engage in face-to-face, in-depth exchanges with foreign counterparts.
 
PIARC is an international road organization that has brought together representatives from countries around the world for over 100 years. Participation in PIARC and other multinational entities enables FHWA to access, influence, and learn from many countries in a cost-effective manner. PIARC provides information on the most recent technical and policy developments in road transportation abroad and is a significant channel for communicating U.S. developments to the rest of the world.

The International Visitors Program facilitates the sharing of information about U.S. roads and road-related technologies between FHWA experts and their international counterparts. The International Visitors Program has organized the following types of activities for visitors from all regions of the world:

  • Meetings focused on a certain topic.
  • Study tours with FHWA program offices, State departments of transportation (DOTs), and other transportation agencies and associations nationwide.

Through collaboration with international and domestic organizations, HPIP’s programs work together and cross-pollinate, with developments in one area sometimes leading to opportunities in others. For example, a GBP study may lead to a long-term binational relationship with one or more of the countries involved, or a binational relationship can lead to a more focused GBP study on a specific topic. One consistent benefit across all programs has been the development of international relationships.

“Participants in HPIP programs often say that building relationships with international counterparts is one of the most valuable outcomes of the program,” says Leslie Wright, director of HPIP. “These connections facilitate ongoing collaboration and information sharing.”

Selected Practices and Technologies

For the recent synthesis report, FHWA identified 30 influential practices and technologies learned through HPIP’s programs. Falling into 10 broad categories, these practices and technologies were selected based on the current level of dissemination and integration in the United States.

  • Bridge technologies
    • Cable-stayed bridges
    • ABC
      • Movement systems for prefabricated bridge
      • SPMTs
      • PBES
  • Congestion management—Active traffic management (ATM)
    • Automated queue detection
    • Lane control signals
    • Variable speed control
  • Innovative contracting
    • Design-build contracting
    • Warranties
    • P3s
  • Modern roundabouts
  • Pavement materials
    • Pavement recycling
    • Warm-mix asphalt
    • Stone-matrix asphalt
  • Risk management
  • Safety
    • Vision zero
    • Safety planning
    • Road safety audits
  • Traffic incident management
    • ATM incident management
    • Traffic incident response
  • Truck size and weight
    • WIM
    • HS-WIM
    • WIM database management
  • Winter operations
    • Removable legs on trucks
    • Anti-icing
    • Fixed automated spray technology
    • RWIS
    • Snow and Ice Pooled Fund Cooperative Program

Three Decades of Best Practices 

HPIP’s three decades of work has resulted in useful and effective best practices, technologies, and lessons learned beneficial for our Nation’s roadways. A 2021 report, Dissemination Tools and Strategies of the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of International Programs (FHWA-PL-021-025), highlights technologies and best practices learned through international exchanges that have been successfully implemented in or integrated into the U.S. transportation system.

The selected technologies fall into 10 categories:

  • Bridge technologies
  • Congestion management
  • Innovative contracting
  • Modern roundabouts
  • Pavement materials
  • Risk management
  • Safety
  • Traffic incident management
  • Truck size and weight
  • Winter operations

The following sections provide specific examples of technologies, methodologies, and best practices learned from HPIP’s multinational and binational exchanges.

Enabling Faster, Safer Bridge Construction

Efficient, high-quality bridge construction and design methods are critical for ensuring the safety and cost-effectiveness of our Nation’s bridges. In 2004, HPIP conducted an influential Scan, learning about prefabricated bridge elements and systems (PBES) in Japan and Europe. PBES is an accelerated bridge construction (ABC) method that enables construction teams to build bridge elements offsite and move them into place much more quickly, minimizing travel disruptions, construction risks, and project costs.

The 2004 Scan also studied technologies that enable PBES, such as movement systems and self-propelled modular transporters (SPMTs; multiaxle platform vehicles operated through computer-controlled systems that precisely position prefabricated bridge spans). The team for this Scan subsequently developed FHWA’s Manual on Use of Self-Propelled Modular Transporters to Remove and Replace Bridges (FHWA HIF-07-022). The manual has served as a valuable tool for increasing the use of this technology in the United States. As of 2019, SPMTs have been widely used across the country. The Utah DOT saved $55 million on six projects using PBES and SPMTs.

"A piece of a bridge with construction equipment underneath it. Image Source: FHWA."
This bridge over I–70 and Pecos Street in Denver, CO, used prefabricated bridge techniques. Bridge elements were built near the site, lifted with hydraulic jacks, and moved into place using SPMTs. The bridge weighed 2,400 tons and took 50 hours to move 800 feet. Technologies like SPMTs enable the precise positioning of prefabricated bridge elements that can weigh thousands of tons.

In addition to the 2004 Scan, the United States has a long-standing relationship with Japan through the Binational Relations Program in which other bridge technologies and practices have been shared, including seismic design methods. These technologies and practices have been discussed with Japan through biennial workshops for more than 30 years. As a result of these workshops, U.S. transportation practitioners have learned a great deal from Japan’s vast experiences with seismic design and earthquake recovery, helping them to improve the safety of U.S. west coast bridges.

Popularizing Public-Private Partnerships

HPIP has helped disseminate innovative strategies for completing crucial infrastructure projects in the U.S. transportation system. During a 2008 Scan called “Public-Private Partnerships for Highway Infrastructure: Capitalizing on International Experience,” a team studied public-private partnerships (P3s) in Australia, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom.” In P3s, private entities take on a variety of project roles, such as design, construction, finance, and/or operations. Benefits include risk sharing, accelerated project delivery, cost efficiency, and access to new sources of capital.

Since the 2008 Scan, P3s have become more popular in the United States. For example, partnerships with private entities enabled the construction of the North Tarrant Express in Fort Worth, TX. Two-thirds of the funds came from private sources and the project was completed nine months ahead of schedule. The private partner designed, built, and financed the project and continues to oversee maintenance and operations, including collection of tolls on the facility’s managed toll lanes. In another example, private debt and equity helped finance a project on the U.S. 36 Express Lanes that connected Denver, CO, to Boulder, CO, accelerating the completion date of the project by at least 10 years and shifting financial risks to the private sector.

"A highway sign that reads “weigh station” with an arrow pointing right and long-haul trucks lined up on a road to the right of the sign. Image Source: © Scott J. Ferrell / Congressional Quarterly / Getty Images."
WIM technology uses in-road sensors or scales to help enforce commercial motor vehicle size and weight restrictions.

Managing Truck Size and Weight

In 2020, U.S. trucks moved over 10 billion tons of freight and, in 2019, traveled over 300 billion miles. Given the magnitude of U.S. commercial trucking, truck size and weight regulations play an important role in preserving bridge and pavement quality and ensuring road safety. Larger trucks must conform to axle loading, spacing, gross vehicle weight limitations, and size requirements based on laws and roadway design and condition. States may use weigh-in-motion (WIM) technology as a screening tool at weight stations to enforce truck weight regulations, identify roadway violators, and plan enforcement activities.

HPIP programs have helped advance WIM practices in the United States. In 2006, HPIP organized a Scan to study procedures and technologies, particularly WIM, for enforcing commercial motor vehicle size and weight laws in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Switzerland. The 2006 Scan focused on bridge weigh-in-motion (BWIM), high-speed weigh-in-motion (HS-WIM), and WIM database management. Based on bridge technologies learned in Slovenia, the Scan team worked with the Alabama DOT to install a BWIM pilot, and the Connecticut DOT installed a similar system. After observing Switzerland’s high-speed-bridge weigh-in-motion (HS BWIM) technology, the 2006 Scan team invited Swiss experts to the United States for a round of seminars in 2008. This peer exchange informed the development of the Kingman Enforcement site at the Hoover Dam in Nevada. Finally, the 2006 Scan team developed a report on the Netherlands’ centralized WIM database that has served as a framework for various States developing their own WIM data collection systems.

Recognizing the effectiveness of WIM technology, FHWA engaged in many follow-up development and dissemination efforts including:

  • Hosting a web-based strategic planning forum.
  • Developing papers and presentations as part of NCHRP 20-07 Task 254, “Vehicle Size and Weight Management (VSW) Technology Transfer/Best Practices.”
  • Integrating WIM technology into the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Handbook 44: Specifications, Tolerances, and Other Technical Requirements for Weighing and Measuring Devices.

Improving Winter Operations

One of HPIP’s greatest success stories has been the impact of international exchanges that focused on winter operations. Through HPIP programs, the United States learned about a variety of technologies to prepare for and respond to winter weather. Within a few years, many technologies learned abroad became a common practice in the United States. “International collaboration has had a significant impact on winter operations in the U.S., which has improved the safety and efficiency of winter maintenance,” according to Tony Coventry, transportation specialist with the FHWA Road Weather Management Program.

"A snowy road with a car and two long-haul trucks following a snowplow truck. Image Source: © Arizona Department of Transportation."
HPIP’s Scans have had a significant impact on U.S. winter operations, introducing anti-icing practices and RWIS among other winter technologies.

The 1994 Scan in Japan and Europe, called “Winter Road Maintenance Practices,” was one of HPIP’s earliest successes, and led to the widespread adoption of anti icing practices and road weather information systems (RWIS) in the United States. This Scan provided so much valuable information on winter technologies that, in response, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials formed the Snow and Ice Pooled Fund Cooperative Program in 1996. The Snow and Ice Pooled Fund Cooperative Program advances the testing and dissemination of snow and ice technology systems not already in use in the United States. This program subsequently developed an RWIS training package in the early 2000s.

The widespread adoption of anti-icing and RWIS have been quite beneficial to the United States. Anti-icing, the practice of treating roads with a salt brine prior to snow and ice events, supplemented deicing, the practice of treating roads with salt after weather incidents. Under certain conditions, anti-icing is a more sustainable method because it uses significantly less labor, equipment, and materials than deicing. As a result of the method’s rapid popularity, FHWA produced the Manual of Practice for an Effective Anti-Icing Program: A Guide for Highway Winter Maintenance Personnel (FHWA-RD-95-202) in 1996. RWIS with in-road pavement sensors for detecting pavement conditions and informing snowplow operators about road conditions were found to reduce crashes by 83 percent and labor hours by 62 percent.

Areas for Future Focus

Although there have been many successes, there are still technologies and practices learned through international exchange that have not yet been fully integrated into the U.S. transportation system. New technologies and practices offer opportunities to support local, State, and national goals including:

  • Turbo roundabouts
  • Multimodal bike planning
  • Pedestrian safety practices
  • Building information modeling
  • Complete streets
  • Tsunami design guidelines
  • Electrically isolated tendons

“HPIP’s successes go beyond the dissemination of specific technologies and practices,” says Thomas Everett, former executive director of FHWA. “HPIP has fostered a culture of collaboration among transportation agencies throughout the world.”

"A road with bicyclists riding on the right-hand side and individuals walking on the left-hand side. Image Source: © Laura Sandt / www.pedbikeimages.org."
A number of pedestrian and bicycle technologies and practices identified during international Scans could be an area for further focus.

Through its decades of work in fostering international relationships, HPIP has:

  • Facilitated the sharing and exchange of technology and information.
  • Promoted the use of highway standards that are compatible around the world.
  • Yielded information to improve the safety, durability, and efficiency of transportation systems.
  • Provided technical assistance to other countries, so they can benefit from U.S. experiences and expertise to improve their roads.

HPIP continues to learn and share cutting-edge innovations and technologies and practices that meet our Nation’s top transportation system challenges and priorities.

Lori Porreca, Ph.D., AICP is an International Program Manager in FHWA HPIP and oversees binational relationships for the agency. She holds a B.A. degree in English literature from the Catholic University of America, an M.L.A. degree in landscape architecture and environmental planning from Utah State University, and a Ph.D. in sociology from Utah State University.

Jihan Noizet, M.B.A is a Transportation Specialist in FHWA HPIP and oversees the coordination and implementation of cooperative program activities between FHWA and its foreign counterparts. She holds a B.B.A. degree from the University of North Texas and an M.B.A. degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.

For more information, see https://international.fhwa.dot.gov/pubs/pl21025/pl21025.pdf, or contact Lori Porreca at lori.porreca@dot.gov or 202-906-9241 or Jihan Noizet at jihan.noizet@dot.gov or 202–366–1153.