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Public Roads - May/June 1998

Editor's Notes

Editor's Notes

Solve real-world, highway-related problems. In a nutshell, that's the mission of the Research, Technology, and Training Program of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

FHWA's research is not theoretical; it is "applied research" to develop practical solutions to complex, technical problems faced by every person who travels America's highways -and that is virtually everyone in the United States!

Transportation - more than any other activity in our society - directly affects the productivity and quality of our daily lives, our safety, and our economic well-being. FHWA - working with the other modal administrations of the Department of Transportation, state highway agencies, academia, and other partners in the public and private sectors - applies the latest in technology and methods to ensure that America's highways are continuously becoming more efficient and safer.

In the last issue of Public Roads, this column mentioned the success of a few cities using intelligent transportation systems to significantly reduce congestion, travel delays, and crashes.

The reduction in the traffic fatality rate is another example of continual improvement. From 1966 to 1996, the traffic fatality rate dropped from 5.5 per 100 million vehicle-miles traveled to 1.7. The actual number of fatalities per year has decreased by almost 20 percent, while the number of vehicle-miles traveled has increased by more than 268 percent. If there had been no improvement in the traffic fatality rate, in addition to the 41,907 people who lost their lives in traffic crashes in 1996, more than 96,000 others would have also been killed.

We must continue to exploit technology. As stated in the White House report Technology in the National Interest, "Our ability to harness the power and promise of leading-edge advances in technology will determine, in large measure, our national prosperity, security, and global influence, and with them the standard of living and quality of life of our people."

"The U.S. Department of Transportation's program of transportation research, development, and technology application is a central element of the administration's strategy for advancing American competitiveness abroad and improving our quality of life at home," said Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater during his confirmation hearings. The secretary went on to say that a broad and multimodal research effort is crucial to the achievement of his vision for the department to lead the way to transportation excellence in the 21st century.

To meet the challenges, FHWA must maintain a very healthy and robust research and technology program. The future is so full of promise, but current and future highway problems will not solve themselves. They won't just go away, and they won't just get better. They will require regular "doses" of new technology, new discoveries, and new techniques.

FHWA and its partners must also have highly skilled work forces to achieve continual, sustainable improvements. Rapidly evolving technologies will increase the need for regular training to expand knowledge, for recruiting "the brightest and the best," and for recruiting and training sufficient numbers of engineers and technicians to support widespread deployment of intelligent transportation systems. FHWA is training people today for the work of tomorrow, and the agency is promoting transportation careers to students -our researchers and engineers of the future. FHWA sends instructors and demonstration teams to the field to reach the appropriate students and audiences. Through its distance-learning program, FHWA broadcasts via satellite to concurrently train hundreds of people across the country. Also, the Garrett A. Morgan Program is well on its way toward meeting the goal of reaching 1 million students by the year 2000.

"Spreading the word" - sharing technology, techniques, and other information - has been a very important mission of FHWA for almost 105 years, and Public Roads is proud to have been a medium for disseminating much of this information for the past 80 years. FHWA still has lots of stories to tell, and Public Roads is looking forward to sharing them with you.

Bob Bryant