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The US owes much of its present prosperity to the efficiency of its transportation system. The flexibility and low cost of personal transportation in the US is closely associated with most Americans' sense of personal freedom. But the system faces unprecedented demands for renewal. A fast-paced information-intensive economy is changing the places people want and need to travel and new production and management methods are radically reshaping the shipping needs of businesses. At the same time, the Nation's transportation system is expected to meet unprecedented standards for reliability, cost, timeliness, safety, and environmental impacts. Meeting these expectations, ensuring the vitality of a key part of national infrastructure, and enhancing the competitiveness of an enterprise that contributes directly or indirectly to the employment of nearly a fifth of American workers necessitates a vigorous research and development effort in which Federal R&D investment, coordination and stimulation plays a critical role.

The US transportation system includes 190.4 million automobiles, vans, and trucks operating on 3.9 million miles of streets and highways; 103,000 transit vehicles operating on those streets, as well as more than 7,000 miles of subways, street car lines, and commuter railroads; 275,000 airplanes operating in and out of 17,500 airports and landing fields; 18,000 locomotives and 1.2 million cars operating over 113,000 miles of railroads; 20 million recreational boats; 31,000 barges, and over 8,000 US ships, tugs, and other commercial vessels operating on 26,000 miles of waterways, the Great Lakes, and the oceans; and 1.5 million miles of intercity pipelines.

Transportation Statistics Annual Report 1994, US DOT

National Investment in Transportation

Transportation investment and annual expenditures represent a significant element of our overall national assets and expenditures. American households, businesses, and governments spend over $1 trillion to travel 3.8 trillion miles and to ship goods 3.5 trillion miles each year. The net depreciated value of personal motor vehicles alone is $900 billion, and the value of roads and highways is estimated at over $700 billion. When adjusted to formal definitions of the National Income Product Accounts, transportation accounts for 12 percent of Gross Domestic Product. The chart below summarizes the value of current transportation investment, amounts spent on transportation, and transportation-related employment in recent years.

Federal Investment in Transportation Research and Development

The Federal government has played a major role in supporting innovative transportation technologies in partnership with industry for several reasons, the main one being that the government owns and is responsible for a major part of the infrastructure. The positive impacts of technological innovations in the transportation system can only be measured over a period of several decades. The risks of research investments, therefore, can be very high and returns on investment so distant that they do not justify private sector support. This market constraint is exacerbated by the large number and diversity of customers that characterize some modes. Since the public benefits of long-term research often can not be fully captured by private investors under these circumstances, Federal research partnerships are essential for ensuring a continuous flow of innovation.

The Federal government also has a unique responsibility for protecting the public's interest in areas like infrastructure renewal, environmental quality, passenger safety, worker safety, and reduction of congestion. The objectives of both business and government can be achieved through well designed research programs which optimize and leverage the use of both Federal and private sector resources. Often the kinds of long-term research needed to achieve major gains in vehicle efficiency, emissions, or safety are precisely the kinds of research needed by companies to protect their competitive position in domestic and international markets.

Research on aircraft, ships, land vehicles, and other transportation technologies are, of course, also critical for national security. Many defense technology needs can, however, be achieved at much lower cost when defense research is managed in a way that encourages research investment by private firms that can use new technology for both defense and civilian markets. DOD can no longer afford to support research to sustain firms specializing only in defense markets. Enormous savings can be achieved if defense products can be purchased from healthy and vigorous commercial businesses.

Vision and Goals

The National Science and Technology Council's (NSTC) Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation Research and Development is charged with ensuring that Federal investment in transportation research conducted by all agencies is (1) coordinated to ensure efficient use of Federal funds aimed at this mission, (2) focused on projects identified users, industry and other stakeholders as being the most critical to achieving success in the agencies' missions, and (3) limited to areas where it is clear that major public benefits can only be achieved through cost-shared Federal research. The Committee is composed of representatives from the Departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, and Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Investing in technology is investing in America's future: a growing economy with more high-skill, high wage jobs for American workers; a cleaner environment where efficiency increases profits and reduces pollution; a stronger, more competitive private sector able to maintain US leadership in critical world markets; an educational system where every student is challenged; and an inspired scientific and technological research community focused on ensuring not just our national security but our very quality of life.
--Technology for America's Economic Growth, A New Direction to Build Economic Strength

The Committee's vision is of a sustainable and seamless intermodal transportation system that effectively ties America together and links it to the world. This system will help citizens and businesses satisfy their needs by providing efficient, safe, secure, and environmentally friendly transportation of people and goods. It will result from a strengthened partnership between government and the private sector focused on effective management and renewal of existing infrastructure, strategic deployment of new technologies and infrastructure, and on R&D which supports each of these.

The building blocks for achieving this vision are a sound physical infrastructure; a broad array of technological, design, and behavioral alternatives that provide an overlay of operational information to enable the most effective use of the physical infrastructure; and comprehensive knowledge of the system and its operations. Realizing this vision will require achievement of the following goals:

  • A system of personal transportation that meets people's travel needs conveniently and with a minimum of cost and delay. Government and industry will work to achieve the following goals within a decade:

    A prototype of an affordable, attractive automobile capable of up to three times current fuel economy and meeting future standards for safety and air pollution.

    A validated technology base which will enable the commercial development of a new generation of safe subsonic and high-speed civil transport aircraft that far surpass today's aircraft in affordability, efficiency, and environmental compatibility, as well as the development of a safer, more efficient, and more productive air traffic management system .

    Demonstrated technologies that will result in bridges and highway surfaces capable of lasting years without frequent or major maintenance.

    Advanced, integrated highway, air, rail, and marine information systems that will monitor system performance and will provide operators and passengers the information they need to maximize their flexibility and choice, and minimize congestion and environmental impact.

  • A system of freight transportation that supports both traditional shipping needs and the new requirements of industries relying on fast, reliable, flexible deliveries. The government and industry will work to achieve the following goals within a decade:

    Prototypes of heavy trucks, rail locomotives, and buses that will minimize the use of non-renewable resources and will be safe, secure, economically viable, suitable for use by an increasingly diverse population, and, at the same time, be producible and create manufacturing jobs in the US based on both domestic and export markets.

    A civilian space launch industry capable of competing in any unsubsidized international market.

  • A Federal procurement system based on life-cycle costing and performance specifications which gives private firms strong incentives to create and invest in innovations and to meet ambitious safety and environmental goals efficiently and with a minimum of prescriptive regulation.

  • A Federal government structure that supports wise and effective decisions, policies and legislation based on private sector input; comprehensive knowledge of the transportation system's condition, performance and operations; and understanding of the impacts and implications of alternative choices and courses of action.

Guiding Principles

The vision and goals were crafted around the following guiding principles:

  • Work with industry and state and local governments in establishing research priorities.

  • Ensure sound Federal support and effective interagency coordination for key areas of basic and applied research, including engineering topics such as materials and systems analysis.

  • Competitive selection of projects should involve independent experts to ensure that choices reflect merit and not politics.

  • Significant cost sharing should be provided by industry in all applied research.

  • Priority should be given to projects capable of achieving both business successes and meeting social goals such as environmental protection and safety.

  • Work within Federal R&D budget limits without expectation of new money.

No matter how well designed, Federal research investment is only one element of a national strategy aimed at ensuring the continued safety and efficiency of the Nation's transportation system. The Federal transportation R&D program must also include:

  • A business climate that rewards the business investment in R&D that must be the principle source of innovation in transportation. This requires minimizing Federal deficits so that Federal borrowing does not crowd out private investment and trade policies that ensure the widest possible world markets for US transportation products.

  • A regulatory system that achieves environmental and other social objectives at the lowest possible cost and with the lowest possible business burden. This means regulations that emphasize performance, not prescription, and administrative measures that minimize red tape.

  • A program of lifelong learning ensuring that Americans are equipped to build, operate, maintain and use tomorrow's sophisticated transportation systems.

The NSTC Transportation R&D Committee's function is to support a balanced national program in these areas.

R&D Priorities and Objectives

The Committee identified R&D needs and priorities by considering transportation systems in terms of four broad categories. The first three categories include the visible elements of our transportation system: the Physical Infrastructure (roads and bridges, railways, ports and waterways, airports, and launch facilities), the Information Infrastructure (the sensors, computers, and communications facilities that provide for traffic control and management), and Next-Generation Transportation Vehicles (cars, trucks, buses, trains, ships, and aircraft). The fourth category captures the overall systems-level considerations of Transportation System Design, Planning, Management, and Operations (assessment of the interactions and relationships among the three physical elements as well as the performance capabilities and limitations of the people who operate and use the system).

The rate of advance in each of these areas is constrained by many non- technological factors, but R&D can have a major and often critical impact. Since provision of transportation services and equipment is largely a private- sector activity, industry will generally have an important or even dominant R&D role. However, in many situations Federal participation is critical in identifying needs and goals, establishing a knowledge base or concept feasibility, demonstrating and evaluating performance and impacts, and transferring technology to users. Committee subcommittees and working groups have developed the following objectives for coordinated public and private R&D;in each of the categories indicated above:

  • Physical Infrastructure for Transportation: Develop materials, design methods, non-destructive testing techniques, and other technologies for low- cost, long-lasting highways, bridges, airports, and other structures. Develop low-cost methods for non-destructive testing and repair of existing structures. (Note: This was selected as an NSTC Priority Area for FY 1996 R&D Data Collection and Review. A report by the CTRD Physical Infrastructure Subcommittee detailing the results and recommendations of this review is provided as an Appendix.)

  • Information Infrastructure for Transportation: Apply the innovations available from the national information infrastructure to develop an Intelligent Transportation System that will ensure the safe and efficient intermodal operation of the Nation's vehicles and physical infrastructure.

  • Next-Generation Transportation Vehicles:

    Aeronautics: Maintain world leadership in aircraft, engines, avionics, and air transportation system equipment for a safe, sustainable, global aviation system. Space Launch: Ensure reliable and affordable access to space through a stronger US space launch capability which meets the needs of the civilian, national security, and commercial sectors. (Note: Presidential Decision Directive NSTC-4, "National Space Transportation Policy," was issued on August 5, 1994. The Secretaries of Defense, Commerce, Transportation, and the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are preparing a report that will include a common set of requirements and a coordinated technology plan.)

    Personal (Light-Duty) Motor Vehicles: Bring about renewed leadership in automotive technologies through the development of a new generation of energy efficient, low emission vehicles that will preserve American jobs and improve American competitiveness. (Note: This was selected as an NSTC Priority Area for FY 1996 R&D Data Collection and Review. The review was conducted by the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles under the NSTC Committee on Civilian Industrial Technology.)

    Medium and Heavy Duty Motor Vehicles (Trucks and Buses): Ensure US leadership in truck and bus technology by investing in improved materials, components, and design concepts and other technologies required for improved accessibility, energy efficiency and environmental characteristics.

    Rail Vehicles (Intercity and Transit): Position the US as a world technology leader and primary exporter of rail-related equipment and services by facilitating technological innovation in rail vehicle design and construction and by introducing advanced materials, and communications and control technologies which will result in improved performance and reduced costs.

    Ships and Shipbuilding: Restore the competitiveness of the US in shipbuilding, ship repair, ship design, and ship production in order to ensure a strong and competitive US shipbuilding industry unsurpassed in building the finest and most technically advanced vessels in the world.

  • Transportation System Design, Planning, Management and Operations

    Transportation System Assessment Tools and Knowledge: Develop information required for government and industry managers to make effective decisions about the safe operation of existing transportation systems as well as new investments.

    Human Performance in the Transportation System: Define appropriate roles for the human-in-the-loop through human-centered automation and improve the safety and competitiveness of American products through the integration of human performance principles and procedures and the application of new information dissemination, communication, and display technologies to transportation.

Measures Applied in Assessing Priorities

The measures used in identifying priority R&D topics are the key national goals derived from the vision stated above. Priorities also depend upon the potential impact of the research on each measure. Specifically, impact in the areas listed below guided the Committee's efforts. Development of more- specific and quantitative metrics in each area will be a focus of Committee activities in 1995.

  • Increased Personal Mobility, Access and Goods Transport. Effective, reliable, low-cost and convenient transportation is central to quality of life and economic health in the United States. Progress is measured in reduced congestion in urban and intercity travel, reduced costs and delays in intermodal transfer, and a high level of access to employment, goods, and services, particularly for people living in rural areas and for elderly and disabled individuals.

  • Economic Growth and Job Creation. Transportation is critical to economic well-being both as an enabler of business activity and in markets for transportation goods and services. This measure includes both direct job creation and competitiveness in transportation related businesses (e.g. auto and auto parts manufacturing, airlines, and vehicle service companies) and the indirect impact of transportation efficiency on the productivity of the US economy as a whole.

  • Enhanced Public Safety and Security. Measures of success include reduced rates of accidents and injuries in the transportation system for both passengers and operating personnel and increased security for freight shipments. A high level of personal safety and physical security is essential for domestic and international travelers, crews and operating personnel, and the general public, and for cargoes being carried.

  • Environmental Quality and Energy Efficiency. Transportation produces approximately one-third of US greenhouse gases and is responsible for a major fraction of the pollutants that contribute to urban air pollution. Success can be measured in terms of reduced emissions and progress in areas such as transportation's contribution to noise, spills, hazardous wastes, and other environmental areas. Energy efficiency is closely linked to environmental goals, as well as to transportation costs and National energy independence. Transportation accounts for two-thirds of US petroleum consumption and more than one-quarter of total energy usage.

Policy Context

The purpose of this report is to highlight ongoing Federal research efforts in this science and technology (S&T) field and to identify new and promising areas where there might be gaps in Federal support. The report is intended for internal planning purposes within the Federal agencies and as a mechanism to convey to the S&T community the types of research and research priorities being sponsored and considered by the Federal agencies. The Administration is committed to a broad range of high priority investments (including science and technology), as well as to deficit reduction, and to a smaller, more efficient Federal government. These commitments have created a very challenging budget environment--requiring difficult decisions and a well thought-out strategy to ensure the best return for the nation's taxpayer. As part of this strategy, this document does not represent the final determinant in an overall Administration budget decision making process. The research programs presented in this report will have to compete for resources against many other high priority federal programs. If these programs compete successfully, they will be reflected in future Administration budgets.

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