Synergy In Action: FHWA's Transportation Pooled-Fund Program
It's About Synergy
Webster's Dictionary defines synergy as "the interaction of two or more forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects." The growing success of the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Transportation Pooled-Fund Program, through which states can join together to jointly fund research in areas of common interest, is all about synergy. Sharing resources and technical expertise among partners creates a better research effort and broader benefits from the study product.
The Program in a Nutshell
The bottom line is that if you're like most managers in the highway research community, you simply don't have the time or the funds to conduct all of the critical research on your own. That's where FHWA's Transportation Pooled-Fund Program comes in.
The Transportation Pooled-Fund Program is administered by FHWA's Office of Program Development and Evaluation at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) in McLean, Va. As the research center for FHWA, TFHRC coordinates an ambitious program of innovative research, development, and technology that addresses the safety, efficiency, and operational needs of the National Highway System.
The Transportation Pooled-Fund Program enables various public and private entities to "pool" their resources to jointly fund research, planning, and technology innovations aimed at solving a wide variety of transportation-related problems. Such entities may include federal, state, regional, and local transportation agencies, academic institutions, foundations, and private industry.
FHWA's central role is to administer the program and to act as a broker of the funds obligated to pooled-fund projects. FHWA's responsibilities also include establishing new pooled-fund studies (usually at the request of states), authorizing the use of 100-percent state planning and research (SP&R) funds, assigning technical liaisons to studies, and notifying and instructing partners on pooled-fund financial issues. FHWA division offices in each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico also play an important role by working closely with their states to ensure the eligibility of projects; to aid in the obligation of funds; and, in some cases, to serve as a technical liaison for the project.
What kind of project qualifies as a pooled-fund study? It's pretty simple. At least one state department of transportation (DOT) and one of the organizations mentioned above (state, federal, academic, etc.) must find the subject important enough to commit funds or other resources to conduct the research. As with other Federal-Aid Highway Program activities, the proposed pooled-fund study must be eligible for funding with SP&R or other selected funds.
The following are some representative examples, showing the kinds of projects that qualify as a pooled-fund study.
If you're like many state DOT and FHWA engineers, congested roadways are a growing nightmare for you. What about high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes? They sound good in theory, but do they really work? One of FHWA's pooled-fund projects is studying that question. [Study Number TPF-5 (029), "High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) Systems"]
Fatal Crash Prevention
Want to learn some low-cost effective solutions to combat fatal crashes? FHWA and 11 states have come together in an effort to implement solutions aimed at reducing fatal crashes by 15 percent in the next three to five years. [Study Number SPR-2 (209), "Enhanced Guidance for Implementation of Safety Strategies"]
One of the most challenging aspects for any highway engineer is improving work-zone safety. Put simply, the driving public bristles at the inconvenience of traveling through work zones, and it's a constant battle to lessen speeds within any work zone. Twenty states recently pooled their resources and developed a winning promotional campaign aimed at improving safety in work zones by better educating the public. [Study Number SPR-2 (191), "Public Service Campaign æ Work Zones"]
The Goal of the Program
"The goal of the program is to allow states to leverage limited funds, thereby enhancing the value of the many successful state-run programs," said Bill Zaccagnino, FHWA's pooled-fund program manager. "One of the offshoots that has made the pooled-fund program such a success for participating organizations is that by creating partnerships, they create a customer base for the ultimate product that will come out of the study." What's good for one state may also be good for others. The core idea is that if Pennsylvania has developed æ or is currently developing æ a successful research study, then Missouri may chose to join in with its resources to help further the research and take advantage of the study's benefits.
The Use of 100-Percent SP&R Funds
The normal match for SP&R funds is 80 percent federal to 20 percent non-federal funding. FHWA has the authority to approve the use of 100-percent federal funding for pooled-fund projects at the request of the lead state as long as it is in the interest of the Federal-Aid Highway Program. To ensure an FHWA technical link to a study., an FHWA technical liaison is assigned to each pooled-fund study at the initiation of the study.
Coordination of the Program
As with many federal and state-run programs, one of the biggest challenges is the coordination and oversight of the "pooled" resources.
"Our goal at TFHRC is to make the program work well for the states and FHWA," Zaccagnino said. "We want to ease the bureaucratic burden that partnering can create. The bottom line is that I want to create a backdrop where researchers are able to concentrate on research instead of wasting time and energy dealing with unnecessary administrative details."
The Future Is Interactive
The most recent effort to improve communications and ease administrative burdens is the development of a new pooled-fund program Web site. This site, which is being developed by the Texas Transportation Institute, is in progress under National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 20-39(2), "Improved Transportation Research-in-Progress Data System."
Currently in the middle stage of development, the site will be interactive and will be the central communications tool for tracking the status of pooled-fund studies. The site will permit online solicitation and commitment by project partners, and it will allow the posting of work plans, progress reports, final reports/deliverables, implementation activities, and other relevant information.
Initiating a Pooled-Fund Study
Want to sponsor your own pooled-fund study?
First, develop a problem statement. States can solicit partners through the AASHTO Research Advisory Committee (RAC) listserv. (This will be done on the new interactive Web site when it is launched.) Problem statements should include all of the following: project title, detailed description, objective and goals, budget, estimated project duration, deliverables, implementation plan, and sponsor information.
Determine whether the study will be state-led, FHWA-led, or Transportation Research Board-(TRB-) led.
Determine project viability based on the level of commitment from interested partners. If the project is viable, FHWA will formally establish the project. This includes processing the funding commitments; assigning a project number; assigning a technical liaison; and, if the state requests, determining if the study will be approved for the use of 100-percent state planning and research (SP&R) funds.
That's all it takes to initiate a study.
The site will help to improve the timeliness and effectiveness of communications. It will allow state partners to post and receive informational updates in a timely fashion without any administrative delay. And when a study is posted for review, potential partners will be notified of new postings via the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Research Advisory Committee (RAC) listserv. The goal is to have the new Web site online in late summer or early fall 2002.
Two Pooled-Fund Examples
John Mason, vegetation manager for Texas DOT, is currently leading Study Number TPF 5(015), "The Erosion Control Laboratory."
The Hydraulics and Erosion-Control Laboratory, operated by the Texas Transportation Institute, was established in the late 1980s to maintain an approved product list for soil-retention blankets and for cellulose fiber mulches, both critical products in battling erosion. Because there are many other state DOTs that use the approved product list, the Erosion-Control Lab seemed to be a perfect fit for a pooled-fund study.
"By getting other people involved, you get a lot more ideas," Mason said. "As different states get involved with different projects here at the lab, I see a lot of things I might not be aware of. From a research and learning perspective, the project is an excellent idea."
If no other states participated in this study, the lab would have to downscale what it does, said Mason. "We simply would not have the opportunity to test as many things."
According to Mason, participating in a pooled-fund study is an excellent idea. "I've really been pleased with it. It helps defray the large costs associated with this type of research. You can do projects on a much larger scale than you normally would."
Mason has some advice for starting a successful study. "Planning. You need to plan way ahead to give people time to get involved. You have to remember that many states work under the constraints of an annual budget cycle and you may have to approach them a year in advance in order for them to sign on as a partner," he said.
Dr. Terry Mitchell, research materials engineer on TFHRC's Asphalt Pavement Team, is one of the leaders of a brand new pooled-fund study that is showing a great deal of promise. TPF 5(019), "Full-Scale Accelerated Performance Testing for Superpave and Structural Validation," was established in mid-2001.
The study is being conducted by the Asphalt Pavement Team at TFHRC's Pavement Testing Facility. At this facility, pavement and highway research engineers study the complex interactions between pavement structures, construction materials, and axle loads, and they evaluate the durability of pavement materials.
The centerpieces of the Pavement Testing Facility are its two accelerated loading facility (ALF) machines, which enable researchers to rapidly collect data on pavement performance under conditions in which axle loading and climatic conditions are controlled.
The ALFs can run two kinds of tests. First, they can be used to study the effects of a single-loading configuration on up to 12 different pavement sections (differing in materials or structures). Second, they can be used to test alternative loading configurations (e.g., by varying tire pressure or axle loading) on identical pavement designs.
The Asphalt Pavement Team's study will select, build, and test 12 lanes of newly constructed pavement. This multitask, multilevel experiment will aim primarily at examining the performance of modified asphalt binders in Superpave mixes, but it will also study pavements designed in accordance with the proposed 2002 pavement design guide, measurements made with various falling-weight deflectometers (FWDs), and crumb rubber-modified asphalt pavements.
The TFHRC Transportation Pooled-Fund Program Web Site
The TFHRC Transportation Pooled-Fund Program Web site includes a variety of information to help interested partners to better understand the program and to obtain information about active and completed pooled-fund studies. The site is located at www.fhwa.dot.gov/research/partnership/pooledfund/index.cfm on the TFHRC Web site.
Among other information, the site includes: introductory information about the program, program procedures, funding report, lists of active and completed studies with study information, links to some final reports, and links to pooled-fund study-related Web sites.
Why perform these experiments within the framework of a pooled-fund study? According to Mitchell, bringing in state and industry participants at the very beginning of a study means you can design an experiment that really fits what they need.
"We held a workshop here [TFHRC] in November 2001 with 10 state agencies, industry, and academia that were interested in participating in the project," Mitchell said. "The meeting allowed us to better develop the study, and forming a pooled-fund study allowed us to gather resources and support from a much wider range of sources." The key to a successful pooled-fund study, according to Mitchell, is communication. "When you're partnering with as many as 20 or 30 different states, it is a challenge to keep them informed and give them a chance to give input. That's why things like having regular panel meetings and the frequent use of e-mail are so crucial."
Role of Private Industry and Academia
The states and FHWA often have other important partners in pooled-fund studies. For example, federal partners include the U.S. DOT's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Cold Region Research and Engineering Laboratory.
Industry and academia also play big roles. In many studies, the actual experiments are not conducted by state or FHWA engineers. A wide variety of contractors from private industry and academia are brought in for their expertise and experience.
Academic partners for current studies include the University of Maryland, Purdue University, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Illinois.
Partners from private industry include Scientex Corp. and Intelligent Design Technologies.
It's a win-win situation for industry and academia. For instance, industry will play a key role in the Asphalt Team's experiments by providing modified asphalts for the mixes that will be tested. "By partnering with us in this study, members of industry can see firsthand how their asphalt types perform next to others being tested," Mitchell said. "More importantly, the study will provide industry and the states with better laboratory tools for predicting how modified asphalt mixes will perform in the field."
The Bottom Line Is Value
With the expense of conducting highway research constantly on the rise and when both state and federal highway budgets are limited, more and more highway engineers nationwide are looking to TFHRC's Transportation Pooled-Fund Program as an effective way to launch and continue important research without breaking the bank. Yes, the program facilitates the sharing of resources. That is a given.
But do not overlook the value gained by having more minds working together to accomplish a common goal. From long experience, FHWA knows that the value created by participating in a pooled-fund study is greater than the sum of its parts.
Brett Joseph, a contracting specialist at the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia (DSCP), is currently on assignment in TFHRC's Office of Program Development and Evaluation. At DSCP, Joseph serves as the program administrator for the Medical Fleet Prime Vendor Program, which provides medical devices to the U.S. Navy worldwide. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J., and a master's degree in business administration from La Salle University in Philadelphia.
For more information about TFHRC's Transportation Pooled-Fund Program, visit www.fhwa.dot.gov/research/partnership/pooledfund/.