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Public Roads - Spring 2024

Spring 2024
Issue No:
Vol. 88 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

Embracing Innovation Leads to a Better World

A car waits at a roadway intersection as a pedestrian crosses the street in the crosswalk. Image Source: FHWA.
Technology and automation lead the way in improving safety for all road users.
Headshot of Craig Thor. Image Source: FHWA.

Embracing Innovation Leads to a Better World

The products of Federal research and development (R&D) investments have a profound impact on the safety, security, and quality of life of American citizens. These products include investments in advancing medical science such as new cancer treatments and vaccines, maintaining an advanced military to serve as a bulwark against threats with innovations such as the global positioning system, or finding new ways of sharing information such as the creation of the World Wide Web.

Federal R&D can also serve as a source of national pride—from putting a man on the moon, to harnessing the power of nuclear energy, or adding to our fundamental understanding of the universe—all leading to a deep sense of achievement and creating new opportunities for innovation in the future.

As Americans, our identity is tied to our willingness to take chances, explore frontiers, and contribute to the greater good. This ethos continues to drive progress, foster economic growth, and enhance global competitiveness. In part, it accomplishes this by laying the groundwork for private-sector innovation, leading to new applications that advance society here and around the world.

At the Federal Highway Administration, we are presented with an opportunity to further contribute to the national tradition of innovation and progress. The National Highway System (NHS) is already a point of national pride. The NHS, formed in 1995 and born from the creation of the Interstate System in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is the backbone of this Nation’s economy, defense, and mobility. Building off this existing infrastructure, FHWA can leverage new tools and technologies—many of which are rooted in Federally funded R&D—to reimagine surface transportation for the future. For example, cooperative driving automation offers a real opportunity to move toward zero deaths on our Nation’s roads. Digital infrastructure and building information modeling offer opportunities to improve the safety and efficiency of how we design, construct, maintain, and operate roads. New sensor technologies can help us identify and predict maintenance requirements, optimize traffic flow, and improve vulnerable road user safety. Further, implementation of advanced tools such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and edge computing opens new doors for transportation researchers to explore as we try to solve complex, but important problems.

Digital simulation of a group of buildings surrounded by trees. Image Source: FHWA.
Virtual simulations are paving the way for transportation innovation.

At FHWA, we strive to be strong, effective leaders in transportation research. We understand the opportunities that exist and that our partners and stakeholders look to us for guidance. At a time when it feels like everything is evolving quickly, the Federal Government can provide direction and set the stage for transformative change. The R&D that FHWA conducts will inform the direction of surface transportation for future generations and will provide avenues for industry to implement and deploy new innovations that address our most pressing challenges.

Working with our stakeholders and partners, we can improve lives and increase global competitiveness by being open to the opportunities that come along with transformative technologies and new ways of thinking. The present is one of the most exciting times in the history of transportation, but it will require vision and a willingness to take technological risks in order to achieve the future we imagine. This is how we achieved success in the space program and leveraged nuclear energy: we can do the same for highway transportation.

By embracing innovation, FHWA will lead the country toward a better transportation future and will support both national and global change. FHWA has an opportunity to put itself at the top of the list of the great drivers of societal change by leading through research and forward-thinking strategies. Investments in Federal R&D can change the world, and I am excited to be part of an organization that has the occasion to push innovation toward transformative solutions.

Craig Thor

Chief Scientist

Federal Highway Administration