Highway research—when adopted and implemented appropriately—has the potential to save lives, conserve funds, reduce congestion and travel times, increase business productivity, extend infrastructure life, and alleviate strain on the environment. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) partners with State transportation departments, local agencies, industry, and academia both to conduct research on issues of national significance and accelerate adoption and deployment of promising research products. FHWA recently initiated the Research and Technology (R&T) Evaluation Program to assess and communicate the benefits of its R&T efforts and to ensure that the organization is expending public resources efficiently and effectively. FHWA developed the R&T Evaluation Program with encouragement from the Transportation Research Board’s Research and Technology Coordinating Committee.
In fiscal year (FY) 2014, the FHWA R&T Evaluation Program worked with 9 FHWA offices to identify and scope 16 projects for evaluation across all program areas. Formal evaluation began in FY15. Three projects have an extended timeline because of the length of the research projects being evaluated. After completion, the evaluation reports are prepared for publication. The current statuses of the original 16 projects are shown below. The R&T Evaluation Program is in the process of identifying candidates for a new set of evaluations.
- Adaptive Signal Control Technologies (2016)
- Gusset Plates (2016)
- National Household Travel Survey (2016)
- Roadside Revegetation (2016)
- Roundabouts (2016)
- Agent Based Modeling and Simulations (2017)
- Eco-Logical (2017)
- Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil Integrated Bridge System (2017)
- Public-Private Partnership Capacity Building (2017)
- Traffic Incident Management (2017)
- Managing Risk on Rapid Renewal Projects (2018)
- Precast Concrete Pavements (2018)
Reports for completed evaluations are available to view here.
- High Friction Surface Treatments
- High Recycle Warm Mix Asphalt
- Vehicle Operating Costs
Individual Project Results
Adaptive Signal Control Technologies (ASCTs) adjust signal timing to alleviate congestion and delay. Findings include the following:
- Adaptive Control Software (ACS) Lite and other FHWA programs increased demand for additional systems and directly influenced 4 out of 16 ASCTs on the market today.
- The Every Day Counts (EDC) Program sped ASCT adoption by agencies at the tipping point. Of surveyed adopters, 48 percent used EDC resources. Only 18 percent of non-adopters used EDC resources.
- FHWA’s efforts supported the development of 25 percent of the 200 deployments now in use.
- Expense and complexity of ASCTs, along with doubts about performance, still pose barriers to adoption.
Agent-Based Modeling and Simulation (ABMS) research involves computationally simulating the actions of individual drivers or agencies to characterize behavior and observe transportation network impacts. The ABMS evaluation assessed the role the FHWA Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program played in the process of developing and advancing this research. Findings include the following:
- The EAR Program played a significant role in developing interest and awareness of ABMS within transportation.
- EAR Program-funded researchers are currently working with metropolitan planning organizations and other agencies to further develop and deploy ABMS tools and methods.
- ABMS has the potential to improve the efficiency and accuracy of transportation models and to advance new technologies, such as automated vehicles and real-time response capability.
- Currently, funding and technical development barriers have hindered the wide-scale development and deployment of ABMS.
Eco-Logical, developed as part of the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2), articulates a vision for an infrastructure development process that endorses ecosystem-based mitigation through integrating plans and data across agency and disciplinary boundaries. Findings include the following:
- FHWA funding allowed agencies to pursue previously planned activities sooner, more comprehensively, and with broader stakeholder buy-in.
- Agencies faced challenges working with partners because of differing missions, staff turnover, and varying levels of support for Eco-Logical activities from Federal staff at headquarters and regional offices.
- Eco-Logical led to improved integrated planning between environment, transportation, and land use, and many recipients incorporated Eco-Logical into their long-range transportation planning and project prioritization process.
- Projects typically spanned 2–3 years, and there was little reporting on impacts. Most comments related to impacts were positive.
Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil Integrated Bridge Systems (GRS-IBS) enable the construction of bridges made of closely spaced layers of geosynthetic textile and compacted granular fill material that blend the roadway into the superstructure. Findings include the following:
- FHWA efforts fostered positive attitudes toward GRS-IBS and more market share during 2010–2015 than in 2005–2009.
- Internal disagreements, including between geotechs and hydrologists, led users to receive conflicting information.
- Deployers reported saving money (up to 66 percent) and time. Presence of water and noncompetitive bidding drives costs.
- GRS-IBS possesses several attributes of a disruptive technology, including its value proposition, but growth potential is constrained by priorities and local geography.
Gusset Plates join structural components in steel bridges and buildings. After part of the I–35W Bridge in Minneapolis collapsed in 2007, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators sought expertise from FHWA, which launched projects on inspection, quality assurance, and training. Findings include the following:
- FHWA’s technical expertise in bridge infrastructure and its prior history of working with NTSB was critical during the bridge investigation.
- FHWA’s decision to jointly fund the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) effort accelerated the research, which started less than a year after initial scoping.
- Active engagement of transportation stakeholders by FHWA expedited delivery of new information on gusset plate design and load rating and closing of NTSB recommendations.
The National Household Travel Survey (NHTS) provides the only data in the country linking individual personal travel behavior, household demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, vehicle ownership, and vehicle attributes. Findings include the following:
- Half the publications using the 2014 NHTS are in transportation fields with the non-transportation share on the rise. Website data access is also increasing.
- Interviews suggest the survey informs policy and legislative decisions within transportation and other fields.
- NHTS reaches out to its user community through its website, direct contact, and formal events.
The Public-Private Partnership Capacity Building Program (P3 Program) evaluation examined the reach and impact of the Public-Private Partnership (P3) Toolkit, an online education resource containing analytical tools and guidance documents, and a set of trainings and webinars designed to support the P3 Toolkit. Findings include the following:
- The P3 Program has delivered educational documents, evaluation tools, and technical resources to thousands of transportation practitioners in State and local transportation agencies, FHWA Division Offices, and P3 advisory firms.
- P3 Program resources have helped transportation agencies with little P3 experience work through complex project decisions; more experienced States tend to have their own resources.
- Knowledge gained through the P3 Program is impacting P3 legislation and policy indirectly, through transportation agencies and P3 consultants who advise State and local officials.
Roadside Revegetation involves establishing or reestablishing appropriate plant material in areas that road construction projects disturb. Revegetation’s benefits include soil and slope stabilization, water quality improvement, aesthetic development, carbon sequestration, weed suppression, and wildlife habitat enhancement. Findings include the following:
- End users have adopted the roadside revegetation practices, using the guide as a reference tool to reinforce practices that agency policies already mandated.
- Survey respondents and interviewees report that roadside revegetation has improved erosion protection, sustainability, environmental stewardship, and visitor experience.
Roundabouts attracted international interest as a safety countermeasure in the 1970s. FHWA initiated domestic research of roundabout safety and design in the mid-1990s, later adding training and technical assistance. Findings include the following:
- Early and continued FHWA research increased the quality and availability of domestic roundabout-related safety and performance information.
- FHWA efforts increased awareness and changed attitudes toward the roundabout as a safety countermeasure, contributing to an increase in U.S. deployments.
- The 2,400 roundabouts built in the United States between 1990 and 2014 averted between 38,000 and 53,000 injury crashes with societal cost savings estimated over $9 billion.
Traffic Incident Management (TIM) trainings teach a coordinated multidisciplinary process to detect, respond to, and clear traffic incidents as safely and quickly as possible to restore traffic flow. The trainings are part of SHRP2. The TIM evaluation examines the scope and impact of these trainings. Findings include the following:
- From 2012 to 2015, over 125,000 emergency responders of various disciplines received the SHRP2 TIM trainings.
- The SHRP2 TIM trainings brought multiple responder disciplines into the same trainings, allowing responders to understand the TIM challenges faced by those outside their discipline.
- In the greater Phoenix area, the SHRP2 TIM trainings contributed to a reduction in secondary crashes that affected responders.
- The SHRP2 TIM trainings furthered reductions in roadway- and incident-clearance times in greater Phoenix and eastern Tennessee.
Several cross-cutting recommendations discuss marketing and communications actions that support research and technology development projects:
- Incorporate market research into projects involving the development of a new technology or process to better understand market conditions (e.g., acceptance, barriers to use, etc.) that may affect adoption.
- Incorporate outreach into research planning to ensure the process includes tech transfer, process training, and/or deployment support.
- Improve internal protocols for research dissemination, including reaching consensus on external messaging and marketing/outreach activities..
Other recommendations suggest further incorporation of program evaluation into the research process:
- Identify key performance measures during research planning process, identify or develop sources of data, and collect baseline measures as necessary.
- Regularly track dissemination activities (document postings, webinars, trainings) and related usage activities (views, downloads, attendance).
- Identify related research that may support the program down the road (e.g., strategies for cost reduction, project management and oversight, etc.).