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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Ongoing Infrastructure Research

Subsurface Utility Engineering

For many years, the inability to obtain reliable underground utility information has been a troublesome problem for highway designers in the United States. Now, there is a solution—subsurface utility engineering.

Material Technology Research

FHWA is constantly looking for new materials and methods to improve the quality of the Nation's highway system. The Agency's efforts involve in-house and contract-sponsored research on areas such as bridge coatings, asphalt concrete and asphalt binders, portland cement concrete, high-performance materials for bridge construction, lightweight and recycled backfills, and waste and byproduct materials

Pavements Research

Improving pavement performance is a complex and ongoing challenge. The pavement research teams in the Office of Infrastructure Research and Development (R&D) are working to address this challenge through a combination of staff and contractor R&D. Staff research is conducted in the laboratories at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC). Contract research is conducted by a broad array of consultants, academic institutions, and private industry research organizations.

Asset Management

The mission of FHWA's Office of Asset Management is to provide leadership and expertise in the systematic management of highway infrastructure assets. The Office has three primary responsibilities:

  • Provide national leadership in asset management principles for highway program administration.
  • Develop asset management policies for pavement, bridge, and system preservation.
  • Partner with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), additional FHWA offices, and others to conduct nationwide programs.

Bridge Technology and Asset Management

The National Bridge Inventory shows that more than 620,000 bridges and 500 tunnels serve U.S. highways. The average age of existing bridges is 42 years. In the coming decades, new bridges will replace many of these spans, but in the meantime, bridge owners need cost-efficient ways to maintain and preserve their existing bridges until they are rebuilt.

Future stewardship and preservation will require new research and technology, and innovative tools, strategies, and management practices. The transportation community also must provide breakthroughs in technologies for quickly assessing, repairing, and rehabilitating bridges to minimize the duration and public impact of work zones. Other research needs include technologies for detecting the conditions of bridge decks at highway speeds and methodologies to assess the conditions of concrete decks with overlays. Additionally, advanced site characterization tools are being evaluated to assess geotechnical and hydraulic conditions, soil properties, and subsurface variability, particularly for scour analyses, to ensure bridge safety and long-term performance. Finally, improved modeling for life cycle cost analyses could lead to cost-effective strategies and techniques for preventive maintenance that extend and optimize service life.