The basic principles governing Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA’s) Research and Technology (R&T) investments are outlined in Title 23 of the U.S. Code, Chapter 5: Research, Technology, and Education.
These guiding principles state that the Federal Government has the responsibility to fund and conduct surface transportation research, development, and technology transfer activities when the work is of national significance and in research areas where there is a clear public benefit and where private investment is not optimal. The FHWA’s responsibility is to assure that State and local governments use national resources efficiently, and to present the best means to support Federal policy goals compared with other policy alternatives.
The role of FHWA is to conduct research; to support and facilitate research and technology transfer activities by State highway agencies; to share the results of completed research; and to support and facilitate technology and innovation deployment.
The R&T Program includes fundamental, long-term highway research—research aimed at significant highway research gaps and emerging issues with national implications and research related to policy and planning. FHWA is responsible for addressing the needs of stakeholders and facilitating a competitive approach to grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements for research and development projects and programs.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BILFAST Act)
The most recent transportation authorization bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) (Public Law 117-58, also known as the “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law”). The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), authorizes and provides funding for fiscal years 2022 through 2026 for four FHWA-administered research, technology, and education programs; the State-administered State Planning and Research Program; and for two programs administered by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology.
- The Highway Research and Development Program authorizes research and development activities in the areas of:
- Improving highway safety – using research and development activities from an integrated perspective to establish and implement systematic measures that improve highway safety.
- Improving infrastructure integrity – using research and development activities to maintain infrastructure integrity, meet user needs, and link Federal transportation investments to improvements in system performance.
- Strengthening transportation planning and environmental decisionmaking – using research to minimize the cost of and improve transportation planning and environmental decisionmaking processes and minimize the potential impact of surface transportation on the environment.
- Reducing congestion, improving highway operations, and enhancing freight productivity – using research to address congestion problems, reduce the cost of congestion, improve freight movement, and increase productivity and improve the economic competitiveness of the United States.
- Conducting exploratory advanced research – using research and development activities to leverage the capabilities of the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center to develop technologies and innovations of national importance and to develop potentially transformational solutions to improve the durability, efficiency, environmental impact, productivity, and safety of highway and intermodal transportation systems.
- Creating policy – using research and development activities to support the formulation of transportation policy and legislative initiatives and the preparation of major reports to the U.S. Congress on highway policy issues, as well as monitoring and forecasting economic, demographic, and personal/commercial travel trends.
- Technology and Innovation Deployment Program (TIDP) authorizes activities such as:
- Develop tools and methods to accelerate adoption of proven innovative practices and technologies as standard practice, such as the Every Day Counts initiative.
- Provide technical assistance and training.
- Establish and perform demonstration programs.
- Establish and implement a pavement technologies deployment program ($12 million per fiscal year).
- Training and Education (T&E). Funds training and education programs such as the National Highway Institute, the Local/Tribal Technical Assistance Program (LTAP/TTAP), and the Centers for Excellence in the areas of environment, safety, rural safety, and innovative finance.
- Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) Program. The BIL continues the ITS program, which provides for the research, development, and operational testing of ITS aimed at solving congestion and safety problems, improving operating efficiencies in transit and commercial vehicles, and reducing the environmental impact of growing travel demand. Guided by the required five-year ITS Strategic Plan, the program is currently focused on significantly reducing crashes through advanced safety systems based on interoperable wireless communications among surface transportation vehicles of all types, traffic signals, other infrastructure systems, pedestrians, wireless devices, and automated vehicle systems.
State Planning and Research Program (SP&R). States are required to set aside funds for the State Planning and Research (SP&R) Program. Funding is provided for SP&R by a 2 percent set-aside from each State's apportionments of five programs: the National Highway Performance Program (NHPP); the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBGP); the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP); and the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) Program; and the National Highway Freight Program (NHFP). At least 25 percent of these funds must be used for research, development, and technology purposes. States use these funds to conduct research aimed at solving specific transportation issues that arise at the State level, or they may leverage these funds by applying them toward Transportation Pooled Fund projects. States can also use these funds as the non-Federal match for Local/Tribal Technical Assistance Program (LTAP/TTAP) centers and for the University Transportation Centers.
Finally, the BIL also authorizes programs administered by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology:
- University Transportation Centers
- Bureau of Transportation Statistics