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II. Summary

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Strategic Planning Document -
Transportation R&D


The programmatic activities by which these priority research areas are to be addressed vary widely depending on the nature of the area and the needed R&D, the Federal role in each area, and the responsibilities and capabilities of participating agencies. In some cases a single comprehensive and focused program is appropriate; in others, the goals are better achieved through coordination and integration of parallel efforts dealing with different aspects of the subject. Certain broad initiatives addressing particular objectives are represented in more than one priority area. For example, the thrust to advance US aeronautics includes both aircraft technology and a global air traffic control system, which is also a part of the transportation information infrastructure. Similarly, crash avoidance systems being developed within the Intelligent Transportation Systems program can be identified with vehicle research as much as for information infrastructure. For each priority area the topics to be addressed, broad objectives and programmatic goals, principal challenges and opportunities, and intended R&D outputs are described below.

PRIORITY AREA: Transportation Physical Infrastructure


The transportation infrastructure of the US is a vast network of highways, railroads, waterways, transitways, pipelines and supporting infrastructures worth some $2.4 trillion. These transportation networks are the physical systems that bring people and products together, the foundation on which our economy and society move. The well-being of this infrastructure are essential to the economic health and vitality and vitality of the Nation. Maintenance and renewal of our aging and deteriorating infrastructure systems is more than 80 percent of transportation expenditures. Transportation infrastructure systems must be incrementally restored, renewed, preserved and strengthened, and expanded in capacity if the ever growing transportation needs of our Nation are to be served.

The methods, tools and materials used in transportation infrastructure construction and maintenance change slowly, limited in part by the need to manage the risks of unexpected weaknesses or problems which may not become apparent for years or decades, and by the importance in most decision processes of minimizing initial cost. Another constraint is that the supply industries involved may perceive relatively limited initial markets, with consequent low profits for innovative products. These considerations sharply reduce private sector motivation toward performance of advanced R&D. The R&D challenge is in part how to address technologies that have such long operating lifetimes and diverse environments, and how to overcome institutional barriers to practical deployment of developed technologies.

However, in other sectors such as defense and consumer products, various forces have provided a strong incentive for innovation in sophisticated new materials, structural design concepts, and innovative tools and techniques. The inventory of advances potentially worthy of infrastructure use grows day by day, awaiting only the effort to develop specific applications, demonstrate their effectiveness and long-term viability, and often, reduction of costs to a competitive level. The reality of this concept is already being demonstrated by results achieved in Europe, where American highway professionals observe a much more vigorous program for incorporating new materials in foreign roads. The degree to which portions of the Nation's highway system are nearing their design life and much transit system infrastructure has already exceeded its nominal life, thereby imposing high maintenance costs and periodic service disruptions, warrants aggressive examination of means efficient and practical means of improving materials to renew transportation infrastructure of all types.

Obtaining the best life-cycle performance from the Nation's physical infrastructure is important to not only the users, but the taxpayers and the government. Materials used, construction practices, climate and use of the infrastructure can all vary dramatically and infrastructure lifetime is normally measured in decades.


The approximately 3.5 million miles of surfaced roads in the US carry one-third of freight ton-miles and nearly 90% of passenger-miles traveled. DOT data shows that 10% of pavements require immediate repair, and 60% call for rehabilitation. One third of our bridges are structurally deficient. Public expenditures for construction and maintenance of the highway system are approximately $80 billion per year. Obtaining the best life-cycle performance from aging pavements and bridges that have already exceeded their in-service design life is essential to the Nation's productivity and mobility.

Defense and consumer sector R&D has produced a rich inventory of high performance construction materials, structural design concepts, and innovative tools and techniques. These await specific application to transportation infrastructure, demonstration of effectiveness and long-term viability, and, often, reduction of costs to a competitive level. Examples include composite materials, innovative structural design concepts, advanced corrosion protection and control, structural composites and adhesives, and new pavement mixtures. Extending service life through durable pavements by a marginal 1% would save the nation about $ 20 billion over 20 years.

At the Louetta Overpass on State Highway 249 DOT and the State of Texas are working on a High Performance Concrete (HPC) bridge that will utilize advanced materials and concrete casting and processing technology. HPC has higher strength and durability for the deck and substructure. Innovative U- shaped beams will be used. HPC is more impermeable to weathering, requiring fewer pillars to support longer spans and a lighter superstructure. Construction and life cycle cost savings relative to conventional structures, and reductions in erection time, more than offset the higher initial cost of the materials The bridge also features advanced non-destructive inspection and testing devices, to monitor strain and performance during and after the construction process.

Key Finding

Strategic investment in the an infrastructure research, technology and deployment program is paramount to the preservation and enhancement of the Nation's transportation system. There is great potential benefit from R&D directed toward high performance construction materials, automated tools and devices, design concepts and construction methods for renewal of transportation infrastructure.

Major Objectives

Major program objectives in physical infrastructure research and development are to:

  1. Reduce the backlog of needed rehabilitation and renewal of existing transportation infrastructure.

  2. Improve the performance of transportation infrastructure, as measured by life-cycle cost, safety, reliability, environmental impacts, transportation service, capacity, and mobility and access for all.

  3. Provide the technology base needed for transportation systems of the future, including innovative vehicles and system concepts, intermodal integration, and a sustainable environment.

  4. Assure that the Nation's transportation physical infrastructure maintains a high level of performance during seismic and other natural disasters and can recover rapidly from such events.

Challenges and New Opportunities

National leadership is critical in guiding and supporting this area of research. Many technical advances already exist that are absent or not widely applied in the United States. The following challenges and opportunities are critical to the Nation's productivity and economic well being:

  • National Renewal: There is great potential from research directed toward high performance construction materials, automated tools and devices, design concepts and construction methods for renewal of transportation infrastructure.

  • Deployment of Existing Technology and Knowledge: Facilitation of technology deployment is as important as technology generation, and is a critical element of R&D in the infrastructure area. Facilities and techniques for accelerated testing can greatly advance the application of performance specifications and life-cycle performance.

  • Preservation of the Environment: Many serious environmental issues arise in infrastructure renewal and maintenance activities. Research is needed to address environmental issues associated with construction and maintenance, such as the use of recycled materials, minimization and removal of waste, and reduction of disruption to the affected area.

  • Reduction of Costs, Improvement of Performance and Enhancement of Safety: Application of advanced non-destructive inspection and monitoring technologies can yield great benefits in the management of physical infrastructure. These technologies will facilitate development of more efficient maintenance and renewal strategies and priorities, and can thereby reduce costs, improve infrastructure performance and enhance safety.

PRIORITY AREA: Transportation Information Infrastructure


Economic vitality and growth depends upon reliable, safe, and efficient transportation. The economic burden imposed by congested transportation facilities inhibits job formation and is estimated to cost the Nation over $100 billion annually due to clogged highway arteries alone. Information systems and technologies play a critical role. The Nation's air commerce depends upon advanced air traffic flow control and management systems to alleviate the adverse consequences of air traffic congestion. Information technologies and system management techniques are being pursued to alleviate highway, rail, and vessel traffic congestion, delay, and inefficiencies, but have yet to be adopted widely in practice. Information technologies also are viewed as a means to ease the paperwork burden associated with shipping documentation, payment transactions, record keeping, and regulatory permits and clearances. It is estimated that motor carriers expend one to two billion dollars annually simply to collect and report vehicle mileage and fuel usage information for tax reporting purposes.

Seamless transportation inherently requires a unique public enabling infrastructure of communication and information technologies as well as development of comprehensive technology, telecommunications and information policies and promotion of their application. Information infrastructure R&D leading toward improved transportation safety and efficiency is a priority intricately linked to the National goal of job creation and economic growth.

Overlaying the existing transportation infrastructure with a complementary information infrastructure will dramatically improve transportation service, cost, safety, and efficiency, while lessening adverse environmental impacts. Emerging electronic information systems, navigation, and communication technologies are providing new ways for operators to improve transportation system performance, and enabling travelers and shippers to make informed transportation choices. What will emerge is a society infused with information systems that not only connect all modes of transportation into one cohesive system, but also link transportation to the National Information Infrastructure.

At the core of current Federal efforts in this area is the Intelligent Transportation System program, currently focused primarily on highway applications. This is a public-private partnership to develop and apply a very broad variety of vehicle, roadway, electronics, communications, and information processing technologies and services to improve the efficiency and safety of surface transportation systems. This program will generate a wide array of new products and services, and will contribute to improved mobility and quality of life. Implementation of a compatible National Information Infrastructure for Transportation in the US will require the successful integration of a wide range of technologies, including unique public infrastructure. The Federal government has an important role to play in this effort. It will be necessary to establish unprecedented levels of cooperation among transportation system users; Federal, state, and local governments; research and academic institutions; and private sector transportation providers. For its part, the Federal government provides the national emphasis on safety, congestion relief, mobility enhancement, environmental impact, energy conservation, productivity improvements, and system standards necessary to assure a nationally compatible and accessible National Information Infrastructure for Transportation.


Currently, long-haul trucking operates under a series of Federal, state and local regulations which cover such issues as cargo weight, fuel taxes and fuel usage, vehicle safety, driver performance and working hours, and licensing and registration. As a result, trucks can be subjected to numerous inspections and stops during the course of a long-distance journey. This contributes to a reduction in efficiency and an increase in total costs and time required for a freight movement.

One possible solution can be found in the Commercial Vehicle Operations (CVO) segment of the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) program, which applies advances in electronics, communications, and information technologies to the Nation's surface transportation system. A good example of CVO in action is the HELP (Heavy Vehicle Electronic License Plate) program. This is a multi-state, multi-national research effort to design and test an integrated heavy vehicle monitoring system that combined Automatic Vehicle Identification, Automatic Vehicle Classification, and Weigh-In-Motion capabilities.

Use of High Information Containers in intermodal freight movements is now being applied to assure seamless movement of shipments on to trains, through ports to ships, back to rail and highway vehicles, and on to the final recipient. Conrail is now actively pursuing this technology.

Other facets of ITS now being applied include electronic highway toll and subway fare collection. Toll collection is in active use on the New York Thruway at the Tappan Zee Bridge, and will soon be applied to other bridges. The MTA is now introducing a transit fare card that will be a "regional passport" for all New York-area transportation, potentially even usable in telephones, taxicabs, and at newspaper stands.

Key Finding

Dramatic transportation benefits and generation of markets will result from dynamic and vigorous Federal support for the application of communication, information and navigation technologies to transportation system design, operation, management and use. While development and use of specific information technologies and capabilities is primarily a private- sector function, the Federal government has a substantial interest in public sector applications, such as highway infrastructure, transit operations, and air traffic control, and can and should play a critical role in shaping the deployment of compatible and integrated systems.

Major Objectives

Major program objectives in transportation information infrastructure R&D are to:

  1. Provide essential or enhanced user services at minimum or reduced Federal cost for transportation system operations, and in ways that accelerate the establishment of US industry for hardware, software, and services having a substantial domestic market penetration and strong international market presence.

  2. Assure that the capabilities of satellite-based communication, navigation and surveillance technologies are developed to the maximum feasible degree, so that their full benefits to transportation and other sectors can be realized.

  3. Develop and generate an overall systems-level understanding of the transportation information infrastructure, critical system architecture features, and its relationship to the broader National Information Infrastructure construct.

Challenges and New Opportunities

The US benefits from one of the most efficient, effective, safe, and modern transportation system in the world. However, there are a number of areas where improvements could be made that would further enhance Intelligent Transportation System benefits. These are captured in the following challenges and opportunities.

  • Integrate America's Transportation Systems: While development and use of specific information technologies and capabilities is primarily a private-sector function, the Federal government has a substantial interest in public sector applications, such as highway infrastructure, transit operations, and air traffic control. The Federal government should play a critical role in shaping the deployments of compatible and integrated systems.

  • Enhance the Global Air Transportation System: Continued modernization of communications and navigation systems will play a key role in accommodating air travel growth. Congested airports are undergoing expansion and modernization to meet the ever increasing level of air traffic. Of particular importance to US airlines and aircraft manufacturers is the internationalization of a worldwide Global Navigation Satellite System, providing satellite-based communication and navigation. Movement toward such advanced systems will have a significant positive effect on the industry's competitiveness and market potential as well as open the lucrative market for GPS avionics equipment worldwide.

  • Increase Productivity and Improve Customer Service: Substantial advances in railroad signal and control system technologies, particularly with respect to rail transit, commuter rail, freight tracking and shared passenger-freight right-of-way, are possible. Positive train control could enhance safety, and better operational information could improve productivity and customer service.

  • Develop "Smart" Transportation Systems: Federal investment in evaluation, development and deployment of Intelligent-Vehicle-Highway System applications and technologies, and support for system integration, warrants high priority to identify and reduce impediments and remove disincentives to deployment of these technologies. This will greatly assist in bringing about striking transportation benefits in mobility, safety, efficiency, and productivity.

  • Improve Logistics: Applications of modern sensing, information processing, display an communications technologies to traffic and logistics management and other transportation functions on the ground, in the air, and on the sea will have a dramatic impact on transportation and logistics.

PRIORITY AREA: Transportation Vehicles

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Transportation R&D - Table of Contents


Executive Summary

I. Overview

II. Summary

II. Summary - continued

II. Summary - continued

III. Conclusion


Strategic Planning Document - Transportation R&D

Department of Transportation