Innovative Solutions for the Nation’s Highway Challenges
As President Obama saw firsthand when he visited the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center last summer, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is a world-class incubator of innovations. From the highway driving simulator and research on connected vehicles, to the ongoing pursuit of more durable construction materials and more effective paving techniques, FHWA continues to break new ground--as it has for a century or more. In a manner of speaking, innovation is in its DNA.
The research center is continuously developing and evaluating new material specifications for stronger, more durable bridges and pavements. In addition, FHWA is leading the deployment of proven innovations that save lives and build roads and bridges faster, cheaper, and with less environmental impact. This commitment to research and innovation ultimately delivers a safer, more reliable transportation system that is both effective and environmentally sustainable.
Several articles in this issue of Public Roads focus on innovation in the highway industry at the national level. One of the articles describes President Obama’s tour of the research center’s laboratories where many highway innovations first see the light of day. Innovations start in the laboratory, but the transportation system never would see the benefits without the effective adoption and acceptance of these innovations into the state of the practice. Another article in this issue focuses on methods for accelerating the adoption of innovations through project demonstrations. A third article chronicles the history of highway innovation.
Various industry groups are committed to innovation as well. More than a decade ago, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) developed a program called the Technology Implementation Group, recently renamed the AASHTO Innovation Initiative. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) sponsors a major workshop every year focused on where the industry needs to be years into the future, and what sorts of innovations will take it there. In 2013, ARTBA’s TransOvation™ workshop focused on driverless vehicles and what the highway community needs to do to prepare for them.
In addition, FHWA’s new Center for Accelerating Innovation is leading the agency’s Every Day Counts initiative, which focuses on deploying new technologies and approaches. Deputy Transportation Secretary Victor Mendez initiated that effort in 2009 as FHWA’s Administrator. Whenever the agency initiates the process of identifying the next group of Every Day Counts innovations to focus on, AASHTO, ARTBA, the National Association of County Engineers, and other groups are key players in the process.
Perhaps, therein lies the real lesson about innovation: Success ultimately hinges upon cooperation. Innovations are more than just pieces of machinery or mixtures of materials. More and more, the innovations providing the most benefit are those that have to do with how well people and organizations work together. Collaborating with partners around the world, FHWA’s research is improving the roads and bridges we travel on every day, saving lives, reducing congestion, and advancing economic growth.
What was once dreamed of as the highway of the future is becoming reality. And today, FHWA and its research center are moving toward solutions that will affect the transportation system of tomorrow.
Federal Highway Administration