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Public Roads - May/Jun 2009

May/Jun 2009
Issue No:
Vol. 72 No. 6
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Training Update

The National Highway Institute (NHI)

by Norah Davis

Accelerating Deployment Of New Technologies

Suppose that you've developed an innovative technology or other new solution to a transportation problem. Unless you can persuade the transportation community to adopt the innovation, it will have no real benefit either to your organization or to society. Deploying new technologies can take years because of the difficulty of persuading people to try something new. Case in point: the deployment of SuperpaveTM took 12 years and cost $100 million.

Officials in government organizations tend to be cautious and want examples of successful implementation before they make a change. As a result, reports on new research often sit on the shelf, or someone champions the new technology but lacks support from the organization's leadership or funding for deployment. So how can a new technology or approach overcome these obstacles and get off the shelf and onto the highway?

Enter a new National Highway Institute (NHI) course, Leap Not Creep: Accelerating Innovation Implementation (FHWA-NHI-134073). This 2.5-day, Web-conference/instructor-led training is designed to provide transportation professionals with the tools to mainstream innovations into an agency's standard practice. Participants learn about the importance of marketing the innovation and how to do it successfully, how to locate funding, and strategies for neutralizing roadblocks to implementation. The course's target audience includes project managers, engineers, analysts, senior managers, and communications specialists.

Leading by Example

"Getting people to incorporate an evolutionary, transformative practice in their day-to-day business is difficult," says Lawrence H. Orcutt, chief of the Research and Innovation Division at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which hosted the course's pilot session. "The key is change. And you can't get people to change without a solid business case and a marketing plan to convince them that this innovation will help them do their jobs."

Road safety audits like this one simulated in McLean, VA, are one of the success stories highlighted in the NHI course Accelerating Innovation Implementation.

An example described during the pilot was a new system that Caltrans developed for protecting construction and maintenance workers when they are working on roadside shoulders. Named after an employee who lost a leg on a road in the bay area, the Balsi Beam is a tractor-trailer device that provides a 30-foot (9.1-meter)-long work zone — a shield of steel instead of cones.

As a Caltrans maintenance manager said, "We should have something better than cones to protect our people." Commercializing the device through a private contract took Caltrans more than 3 years because of the challenges related to selling licenses on an evolutionary technology for a fair market value. Orcutt adds, "You need to have innovation champions at the working, mid, and executive levels to successfully deploy research that achieves its full benefits."

Creative Solutions

Kathleen A. Bergeron, a marketing specialist with the Federal Highway Administration's Highways for LIFE program, describes another example presented during the course: "A Texas Department of Transportation [TxDOT] roadside litter campaign used an innovative approach. A company hired by TxDOT conducted market research to determine the target audience. The typical litterer in Texas turned out to be an 18- to 34-year-old male who drives a pickup truck. Approaches that appeal to children [such as the U.S. Forest Service's Woodsy Owl] or environmentalists [the crying Indian campaign developed by the Ad Council for the Keep America Beautiful program] did not work in Texas." Based on the market research, the campaign instead adopted the macho-sounding slogan "Don't mess with Texas" and ran television advertisements featuring two Dallas Cowboys football players offering to punch out litterers. The campaign was hugely successful, reducing roadside litter by 59 percent within 3 years.

The key to success is marketing research. Caltrans' Orcutt sums it up, "Do you want your idea to be used? If so, you need to acquire the tools this class offers."

To read the full course description, visit the NHI Web site at

NHI Innovations Web Conference: Sample Topics

  • Road safety audits
  • Performance contracting
  • Applications of self-consolidating concrete
  • Modern roundabouts
  • Inservice bridge inspection techniques
  • Applications of prefabricated bridge elements
  • Improving pavement edge performance
  • Pavement smoothness

Norah Davis is editor of Public Roads.