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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
March/April 2017
Issue No:
Vol. 80 No. 5
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Onward and Upward

by David M. Jared

AASHTO’s research committees and initiatives are helping to foster a national culture of innovation on transportation projects to move research into practice.


State DOTs face many barriers to implementing emerging techniques, processes, and products. For example, the Maintenance Decision Support System is an innovation that can help transportation agencies determine the most appropriate winter highway treatments.


With rapid changes and increasing sophistication in transportation technology, and concomitant policy changes, the need for innovation in the transportation world has intensified. However, constrained resources challenge State departments of transportation and other transportation organizations to do more with less. Whether the motivation is proactive or reactive, or both, one thing is clear: State DOTs would like to embrace a culture of innovation. However, limited resources; changes in technology, policy, and priorities; and difficulty communicating the value to endusers make it not always easy to move research innovations into practice.

To help address these challenges, transportation organizations are taking a proactive approach to innovation by developing better ways of doing things, technologically and procedurally. For example, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, through its Standing Committee on Research and supporting Research Advisory Committee, and other initiatives, is fostering this national culture of innovation by helping State DOTs move research into practice.

A Dynamic Duo

Promoting innovation is an integral part of AASHTO’s overall mission. The association’s most recent strategic plan (2014–2019) is built upon four strategic goals, including the provision of “innovative technical and professional services and products” that are “widely used by members and the larger domestic and international transportation community.” One strategy to accomplish this goal is the Standing Committee on Research “identify[ing] and support[ing] high-priority research.”

The purview of the committee includes identification of national research priorities, especially through the Cooperative Research Programs of the Transportation Research Board, identification of research gaps, and collaboration with other AASHTO committees, the Federal Highway Administration, and partners to develop and implement effective research efforts for filling those gaps and addressing national priorities. The Standing Committee on Research is one of only a few AASHTO committees with limited membership selected by AASHTO rather than having a representative from each State.

A key partner for the Standing Committee on Research’s work within AASHTO is the Research Advisory Committee, which is typically staffed by research administrators from all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Besides providing a roundtable for State DOT research staff, this committee has launched strategic task forces over the past 10 years with the intent to advance the implementation of research results into practical products.

Kirk Steudle, director of the Michigan Department of Transportation and former AASHTO president, described the importance of bringing States together in an issue of AASHTO’s ResearchMakes the Difference: “Collaboration among States is invaluable. AASHTO helps States jointly define and address research needs, and just as importantly, put the findings to work in improving the design, construction, and safe operation of our transportation infrastructure.”

AASHTO Initiatives

AASHTO promotes the progression of research into practice on at least five fronts: (1) applying the results of the Transportation Research Board’s Cooperative Research Programs, (2)supporting exploratory analysis for innovations, (3) promoting innovations already in use by AASHTO’s members, (4) leveraging resources of the Research Advisory Committee through special task forces, and (5)supporting other national initiatives such as the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) and FHWA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) initiative. These programs and their products, described below, demonstrate the breadth of AASHTO efforts to foster and implement innovation.

National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 20-44, Accelerating the Application of NCHRP Research Results. This project, launched in 1995, emphasizes that “in an applied research program like the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, application of results is the most important measure of success.” To ensure the fulfillment of its mission, NCHRP recently appointed an implementation coordinator from the Transportation Research Board to direct this project.

Products from the NCHRP Project 20-44 include beta testing of pavement design software (Project 1-37A), development of recommended specifications for modular bridge joints (Projects 10-52 and 12-40), and software for evaluating the environmental effects of pavement marking materials (Project 4-22). For more information on the application of NCHRP results, visit

Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis (IDEA) Programs. These programs, funded by AASHTO through the Cooperative Research Programs and managed by the Transportation Research Board, “provide start-up funding for promising, but unproven, innovations” in highway and intermodal surface transportation systems. Begun in 1988 under the Strategic Highway Research Program, three IDEA programs seek to support solutions to transportation problems that are unlikely to receive funding from traditional sources. Proposals are selected based on innovativeness, expected benefits, and scientific approach.


AASHTO’s many efforts to encourage and promote innovations in States includes supporting other national initiatives with similar goals. Widespread adoption of safety innovations in work zones, such as this use of movable barriers on I–70 in Indiana, proves these partnerships are succeeding.


The IDEA programs focus on highways, transit, and railroad safety. The highway component, NCHRP Highway IDEA program, supports innovative concepts for highway design and construction, materials, operations, maintenance, and other areas of highway systems. The Transit IDEA program aims to enhance security, increase ridership, and improve efficiency for transit systems. The third program, Rail Safety IDEA, focuses on improving railroad safety and performance.

All of the IDEA programs are integrated to support advances in highway, transit, safety, rail, and intermodal systems. Funding under these programs is open to all individuals, including entrepreneurs, small and large businesses, and institutions. The IDEA programs review proposals for funding twice a year.

One example of a product supported by the IDEA programs is the hybrid-composite beam, which is a structural member used in railroad and highway bridges. The hybrid-composite beam combines a fiber-reinforced plastic box beam (shell), portland cement concrete (compression reinforcement), and steel fibers (tension reinforcement). The beam weighs about one-tenth that of a typical precast concrete beam for the same span length and improves speed of construction.

AASHTO Innovation Initiative. Formerly the AASHTO Technology Implementation Group, the Innovation Initiative identifies and champions the deployment of select, ready-to-use technologies, products, or processes that are likely to yield significant economic or qualitative benefits. Each year, the Innovation Initiative works with the Standing Committee on Research, the Research Advisory Committee, and others to identify technologies, processes, software, or other innovations that have been adopted by at least one agency, have been proven in use, and will be of significant benefit to other agencies. Lead States then team up to champion these focus technologies to accelerate their adoption by DOTs nationwide.


The hybrid-composite beam, shown here installed on a railway bridge, improves speed of construction because of its light weight compared to traditional beams. The IDEA programs have supported this product.


For example, the Innovation Initiative led efforts to foster adoption of the cable median barrier. For use in existing medians to prevent crossover crashes, the cable median barrier is a life-saving, adaptable traffic device. When installed by agencies across the country, the device has contributed to a significant decrease in fatalities and the severity of cross-median crashes.

Another example is the Innovation Initiative’s promotion of automated machine guidance, which links sophisticated software with construction equipment to direct the operation of machinery with a high level of precision, improving the speed and accuracy of highway construction. The method is gaining popularity for grading operations because it offers the opportunity to move soil and other materials with fewer workers, enhancing safety and overall cost efficiency.

In addition, in May 2016, the Innovation Initiative signed a memorandum of agreement with FHWA’s Center for Accelerating Innovation, vowing to share resources to advance deployment of innovations and “foster a culture of innovation within the highway community.”

Research Advisory Committee Task Forces. One of the five goals in the Standing Committee on Research’s strategic plan is for the committee to “champion and facilitate the dissemination and deployment of effective, high-priority research results.” Accordingly, task forces of the Research Advisory Committee have developed initiatives that support this goal. Efforts undertaken by these task forces include annual awards to 16 AASHTO members for high-value research, a “living” database of high-value research nominees on the AASHTO Web site, and Putting Research into Practice fliers on recognized high-value research projects. The task forces also conduct surveys of AASHTO members to gather updates on the implementation status of NCHRP products.

As Frederick “Bud” Wright, executive director of AASHTO, noted in the organization’s 2013 Research Makes the Difference, “Innovations in transportation and the application of research findings are keys to improving the Nation’s mobility, boosting the economy, and enhancing our quality of life.”

Other National Initiatives

AASHTO members have played leading roles in other efforts to implement research at the national level, such as studies under SHRP2, EDC, and the State Transportation Innovation Councils (STICs).

Currently, all 50 States are engaged in implementing the broad suite of SHRP2 solutions. One SHRP2 product, New Strategies for Managing Complex Projects, developed a five-dimensional approach to project management that adds project context and funding mechanisms to the standard three factors of cost, schedule, and engineering requirements. The SHRP2 product includes case studies of complex projects such as the addition of high-occupancy vehicle/high-occupancy toll lanes on the Capital Beltway (I–495) in northern Virginia and the Louisville-Southern Indiana Ohio River Bridges Project. For more details on where and how States are using this product and other SHRP2 products, visit

The EDC initiative, a strategic innovation partnership among State DOTs, FHWA, and various public and private entities, is now in its fourth round of deployments since 2011. EDC has encouraged the use of a number of tools and innovations. One innovation is the National Traffic Incident Management (TIM) Responder Training, which educates first responders on best practices for handling incidents on highways in a manner that minimizes impacts to traffic flow and enhances the safety of motorists and responders. As of late 2016, more than 200,000 first responders have completed the TIM training nationwide.

Lastly, STICs are a key component and an offshoot of EDC, bringing various segments of the highway community together in each State to consider sources of innovation. A STIC puts the State in the driver’s seat to select the innovations that best fit its unique program needs and quickly put those innovations into practice. For example, e-Construction, a paperless process for administering the delivery of construction projects, has realized increased adoption through STICs. Many State DOTs (for example, the Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin DOTs) and industry practitioners are already using or testing some aspects of e-Construction, such as electronic document routing and approvals. Some States are in the process of mainstreaming a number of e-Construction practices.

Innovations in Asset Management

Many AASHTO members have produced significant achievements in moving research into practice. Information gathered by AASHTO’s Research Advisory Committee details some of the successes in asset management, mobility, policy, and safety, as demonstrated in the following profiles.

For bridge repairs that otherwise would require replacement or costly repair techniques, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) saw the potential of carbon fiber-reinforced polymer fabric. The retrofit of a three-span prestressed bridge on KY 3297 over Little Sandy River in Carter County was studied by engineers from KYTC and the Kentucky Transportation Center for a decade and demonstrated outstanding performance. Based on this success, Kentucky then employed this material on a dozen additional bridges. Using this material, the State can save approximately $500,000 per bridge, and motorists are able to continue using spans that remain open during repairs.

Determining when to repair bridges can be just as important as how, as the Maine DOT demonstrated with its advanced SlabRate software. Using finite element analysis and calculations from the AASHTO Manual for Bridge Evaluation, Maine assessed the load-carrying capacities of 20 concrete slab bridges. Among these, more than a dozen that would not have had acceptable operating ratings using traditional assessment methods were shown to be sound when evaluated using these advanced techniques. Given the cost for just one bridge replacement, the modest research cost is already paying off and helping Maine position itself to better direct its repair efforts.

In another example, the Maintenance Decision Support System pooled fund study is a collaborative effort of 19 State DOTs. Led by the South Dakota DOT, the program developed a winter maintenance tool that weighs such factors as road conditions, weather, and feasible treatment options. By analyzing alternatives and modeling predicted performance, the system can recommend the most appropriate maintenance treatments given an agency’s available resources and service goals. Together, the States in the study have conducted field deployment trials on nearly 20,000 miles (32,000 kilometers) of inservice highways. Some experienced savings exceeding 25 percent. In the most dramatic example, the Indiana Department of Transportation documented savings of $11 million on a $40 million winter maintenance program.

In another effort, the Maryland State Highway Administration extensively studied ground-penetrating radar (GPR)--a proven technology to detect and evaluate subsurface features and anomalies--to take advantage of its potential for maintenance systems. The research showed that by using advanced application methods and analysis, GPR could more accurately evaluate pavements and provide data needed for rehabilitation decisions. Maryland also uncovered the potential for GPR in other applications, such as to measure cover depth reliably in bridge decks, and to measure section thickness, cover depth, and reinforcement locations with precast concrete sections.

Moving on Mobility


State DOTs are implementing innovative tools to manage traffic and relieve congestion on overburdened roads. One such tool, adaptive signal controls, adjusts the timing of stoplights to accommodate changing traffic patterns and ease congestion, providing optimal and equitable green-light time for all motorists. While the timing of traditional, manually programmed traffic lights may become out of date as traffic patterns change over time, the adaptive technology gathers data on traffic in real time and automatically responds to dynamic conditions. The benefits are numerous: fuel savings, reduced emissions, improved mobility, and enhanced customer satisfaction. Through EDC, agencies are adopting this technology and seeing motorists’ travel times improve by as much as 50 percent.

In another implementation of an innovation, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) successfully deployed the Intelligent Roadway Information System, an advanced traffic management system, in four of California’s districts. Caltrans found that the system offers rural areas a robust and unified traffic management program that is expandable, scalable, and reliable. Traffic management operators can manage traffic devices and applications from a single integrated interface. The Intelligent Roadway Information System employs an open source methodology that reduced life-cycle costs by approximately 72 percent compared with the full advanced software package used in urban areas. Caltrans developed the following new features to enhance its application of the system: automated warning of stopped or slow traffic, poor visibility, high winds; a performance measurement system; closed-circuit television; changeable message signs; and integrated mapping.


National TIM Responder Training, an innovation promoted through EDC, educates first responders, such as those shown here, on best practices for handling incidents on highways.


State DOTs are embracing environmental stewardship through reuse and recycling across all areas of operation--from construction to maintenance--to enhance mobility. In one example, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) looked to use recycled concrete aggregate as a replacement for natural aggregate in new concrete pavements. After rigorous testing, the recycled aggregate proved to be a viable alternative. At a replacement rate of 45 percent of the natural aggregate, the recycled concrete aggregate showed no significant effects on the new hardened concrete. WSDOT is poised to see significant savings in reduced landfill costs and requirements for virgin materials.

To stabilize slopes and prevent landslides and slope failures, especially on bridge embankments, the West Virginia DOT often uses driven piles or micropiles. Recently, the department developed an improved design procedure for slope stabilization that uses new methods to assess the stability of vulnerable slopes before and after deploying piles. The procedure includes new software, called PSSLOPE, which enables engineers to model loads transferred to piles from the soil more realistically. Designers can make a more accurate assessment of the effect of a sliding soil mass on the performance of bridge foundations and choose the best pile size for stabilizing slopes. The new design procedure is more accurate and less labor intensive than the method it replaces, and it will lower the risk of slope failure and associated costs in West Virginia.

Progress in Policy and Program Delivery

Innovative approaches to regulations on heavy trucks have proven effective at lessening road and bridge damageFor example, researchers at the Louisiana Department of Transportation & Development found that the average annual damage caused by heavy sugarcane trucks--$2,000 per vehicle to highways and $3,500 to bridges--far exceeded the State’s $100 special truck permit. Rather than increasing the permit fee, an alternative approach showed that requiring a minimum of six axles on the sugarcane trucks could effectively mitigate the damage. This solution became Louisiana State law in 2012. Requiring six axles not only ended the costly cycle of damage and repair to roads and bridges, but tax incentives helped cover truck owners’ costs to convert or replace noncompliant trailers.

On the program delivery front, research is affording the Wyoming DOT a savings of $90 million over a decade on its transportation project pipeline. The Wyoming DOT developed a research-based simulation tool to analyze its project pipeline and to consider various funding scenarios, leading to process improvements and new techniques to reduce the risk of costs associated with delays in project lettings. The techniques also shift revenue uncertainties from major projects to minor ones, helping to keep critical, high-impact projects from sitting on the shelf. Wyoming calculated the bottom-line savings from the new methods at a representative 3 percent. For a 10-year project pipeline worth $3 billion, this means an average savings of $9 million per year.

To leverage design-build contracting for project delivery in Georgia, the State DOT sponsored research to develop a selection tool that assesses the benefits and risks of design-build selection. The tool also provides systematic guidance on when design-build is the most suitable contracting option. By combining design engineering and construction services into a single contract, design-build contracting can reduce project costs, improve communication, and expedite project delivery. By ensuring transparent and consistent design-build implementation, the research results supported State legislative action in 2012 that raised the cap on design-build from 30 to 50 percent of Georgia DOT projects. Additional legislation in 2013 allowed for best value design-build contracting (that is, a procurement system that looks at factors other than only price, such as quality and expertise).

Advancing Safety Solutions

Many States have moved research into implementation to improve safety for drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists. For examplethe Iowa DOT correlated crash data with levels of reflectivity for various pavement marking types. The findings provided guidance on pavement marking decisions, such as when and where to reapply treatments to increase drivers’ safety. The study also identified locations that might be made safer with more durable treatments beyond the standard application. The results are helping Iowa optimize expenditures on its pavement marking program to maximize safety.

Roundabouts are another innovative method for improving safety for drivers that many States are using. The Mississippi DOT studied two signalized intersections converted to roundabouts and found a 37.5-percent reduction in total crashes and a 60-percent reduction in injury crashes. Benefits extended beyond safety, with reductions in delay, wasted fuel, and idling vehicle emissions. The DOT estimated combined annual user savings at $806,000.

To improve bicycle and pedestrian safety, the District of Columbia DOT conducted a before-and-after study on new bicycle facilities--including bicycle boxes at intersections, dedicated lanes, and bicycle signals. The study provided insights on bicyclist and driver behavior and is helping the DOT tweak existing facilities and improve the designs of new ones.

In another example, the Utah DOT analyzed high- and low-risk intersections for bicyclists and pedestrians and found that incorporating longer pedestrian signal lengths, providing dedicated right-turn lanes, and adding trees in the right-of-way along the corridor can significantly reduce nonmotorized crashes. The DOT incorporated some of the research findings into design standards (for example, a new midblock crossing standard and increased pedestrian signal times).

Work zone safety has also benefitted.For example, the Indiana DOT used the reconstruction of a 6-mile (9.7-kilometer) stretch of I–70 in central Indianapolis to test the effectiveness of new safety countermeasures for work zones. The study employed advanced safety models to measure the effectiveness of targeted techniques for traffic management. Rerouting the heaviest vehicles to other interstates proved to be a highly successful management strategy, as did the combination of additional police enforcement and reduced speeds in work zones. Using these approaches, the agency estimates it reduced the number of crashes by 40 percent. The overall savings for the agency and the public was approximately $2 million.

The Kansas DOT also worked toward improving work zone safety by testing the effectiveness of portable, plastic rumble strips as a short-term traffic control device. The research showed that drivers reduced their speed by as much as 11 miles (17.7 kilometers) per hour, and research identified possible improvements to the strips and other promising control tools for work zones.

The Road Ahead

AASHTO’s multifront promotion of research shows not only a commitment to implementation of studies, but also, more fundamentally, a commitment to fostering a culture of innovation through the breadth of its committees and initiatives. In this framework, return on investment is realized through implementation, and the committees and initiatives encourage a wellspring of new ideas to sustain that return. Although research results are important, even more important is the structure in place to ensure they are put into practice.


Roundabouts, like this one in Missouri, are innovations that have the potential to improve safety and reduce delays.


The synergy within the committees and initiatives is building. Each stakeholder continues to demonstrate commitment to fostering innovation and moving research into practice, in partnership with other stakeholders. Stakeholders have become more strategic about implementation since expectations regarding return on investment for research seem to have risen in recent years.

“Our ultimate success will be in creating a transportation culture of innovation that’s open to new ideas and new ways of doing things,” said former Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez. “We want things that seem new today to be common practice tomorrow, and for that process to keep renewing itself as new ideas and new technologies are developed.”

David M. Jared, P.E., is assistant State research engineer with the Georgia DOT. He is a member of the AASHTO Standing Committee on Research and vice chair of the Research Advisory Committee. Jared is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He is a licensed professional engineer in Georgia.

For more information, visit or contact David Jared at 404–608–4799 or