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About the Exploratory Advanced Research Program

General Information

Legislation established an Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program that addresses the need to conduct research on longer term and higher risk breakthrough research with the potential for transformational improvements to plan, build, renew, and operate safe, congestion free, and environmentally sound transportation systems.

Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program Processes

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) engages stakeholders in the EAR Program—from evaluating potential research topics to communicating research results.

FHWA identifies and scopes topics through extensive initial-stage investigation. The EAR Program has supported scanning trips and meetings involving national and international experts to ensure use of the most recent advances in science and engineering.

FHWA uses expert panels to ensure the technical quality of sponsored research. The panels are composed of Federal, State, academic, and international scientific and engineering experts, who are vetted to avoid conflicts of interest. The panels frequently include members from multiple disciplines to assure that cross applications and novel approaches to research are fully assessed.

FHWA understands that EAR Program-funded projects are part of a larger research and development cycle designed to move from basic research through applied research, field testing, pilot deployment, and adoption. FHWA is committed to transitioning the results of EAR Program-funded research projects and takes an active role in demonstrating results to audiences critical to continuing the research and development cycle.


  • 1991 — The Office of Advanced Research is established. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 (ISTEA Sec. 6001) establishes a long-term research project category specifying that 15 percent of research funds expended under the R&T [research and technology] program must be expended on long-term projects that are not likely to be completed within 10 years. The new program is to serve as FHWA's eyes and ears for new technology development from within government and industry sources.
  • 1993 — With a budget of $3.7 million, twelve research grants were awarded for the first time under this program.
  • 1994 — With a budget of $5.6 million, eight additional grants were awarded.
  • 1995 — Under Agency-wide restructuring, the Office of Advanced Research was incorporated as part of the Office of Safety and Traffic Operations Research and Development and worked with a budget of $2.8 million.
  • 1998 to 2004 — New highway legislation did not include designated funding provisions for an advanced research program, however, FHWA continued to channel discretionary funding to support ongoing work. This amounted to less than $1 million per year.
  • 2005 to 2012 — The passage of Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act—A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) resurrected funding for FHWA's EAR Program, dedicating $14 million per year for exploratory advanced research.
  • 2013 to present — Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and now the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act continue commitment for the EAR Program. 


International Cooperation

Infravation - An Innovation Infrastructure Program

Infravation is infrastructure plus innovation. The Infravation Program is the first cooperative research initiative between FHWA and other national road administrations developed from the ground up, which allows U.S. entities such as academic institutions, state departments of transportation, and businesses to participate in the research along with entities from other countries. Infravation is an important complement to FHWA’s national research agenda, including its Exploratory Advanced Research (EAR) Program. It will accelerate the consideration and development of innovations, especially in the areas of advanced systems, and materials and techniques for road infrastructure.

Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2019