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Policy Statement 497 - Surface Transportation Research Funding

 
Approved by the Transportation Policy Committee on February 13, 2018 
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on May 6. 2018
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 13, 2018
 

Policy 

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) supports the following general principles in the reauthorization of research and technology programs in the nation's surface transportation legislation: 

  • Improvements resulting from research, development, and technology (RD&T) are critical to achieving national transportation goals in safety, quality of life, economic health, environmental impacts quality, sustainability, and security.
  • Increased levels of funding for RD&T activities is justified based upon generally high returns on research investment.
  • Research programs should be conducted according to the highest scientific and engineering standards, from priority-setting to award of contracts and grants to review and evaluation of research results for implementation. 
  • Research programs should be carried out with appropriate involvement from stakeholders in the public, private, nonprofit, and academic sectors.
  • Technology transfer activities are critical to successful implementation of research results and should be supported with RD&T funds
  • Public-private partnerships in RD&T should be fostered by identifying appropriate roles for each partner and providing incentives for private investment. 

Within the context of the general principles set out above, ASCE supports the following actions regarding specific surface transportation RD&T programs: 

  • The research and technology portion of the State Planning and Research (SP&R) program should be maintained to help support state-specific activities while continuing to encourage the states to pool these resources to address matters of mutual interest.
  • University research should continue to be supported through the University Transportation Centers (UTC) program using a competitive selection process that guarantees quality participants and fairness in the allocation of funds.
  • The Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Research and Technology program should be strengthened by giving it sufficient funding and flexibility to implement the recommendations of Transportation Research Board (TRB) Special Report 261: The Federal Role in Highway Research and Technology. These recommendations include focusing on fundamental, long-term research; performing research on emerging national issues and on areas not addressed by others; engaging stakeholders more consistently in their program; and employing open competition, merit review, and systematic evaluation of outcomes.
  • The recommendations of TRB Special Report 295: The Federal Investment in Highway Research 2006-2009, Strengths and Weaknesses should be implemented. These recommendations include awarding research funding through competition and merit review; providing FHWA with the resources to adequately set agendas and perform program review and deployment activities; place a greater emphasis on data collection; and take the lead among research organizations on setting agendas and priorities.
  • The findings of TRB Special Report 317: The Essential Federal Role in Highway Research and Innovation should be considered, as they describe the unique position of the federal government, and FHWA in particular, in leading research efforts.
  • Increased funding is needed to support transportation data collection, particularly safety and freight mobility and logistics data. Better data collection will also help to understand the fast-moving development of technology-based innovations and advanced modeling tools that are needed to meet federal, state, and local system planning, safety, and environmental requirements.
  • Total Research and Technology funding for activities corresponding to Division E in MAP-21 should be at least $750 million per year.
  • The Federal Transit Administration's (FTA) research program should be free of earmarks and allocations and given flexibility to work with its stakeholders to develop and pursue national transit research priorities. The Transit Cooperative Research Program should be funded at a minimum of $20 million per year.
  • The Office of Research, Development, & Technology Programs and Activities (OST-R) should have a well-defined scope and responsibility and appropriate funding, in addition to currently authorized research funding, so that it may supplement and support the RD&T programs of the modal administrations.
  • Public RD&T efforts at all levels should be carefully evaluated for redundancies and opportunities to improve the speed of research results without reducing quality. Private investment in transportation systems and technologies is challenging the public sector's ability to keep up with the speed of change. 

Issue 

The Highway Trust Fund has been an essential source of funding for surface transportation research, development, and technology (RD&T) for decades. Research results have led to many benefits including: materials that improve the performance and durability of pavements and structures; design methods that reduce scour (and consequent threat of collapse) of bridges; intelligent transportation systems technologies that improve safety and reduce travel delay; methods and materials that radically improve our ability to keep roads safely open in severe winter weather; innovative management approaches that save time and money; and analytical and design approaches that reduce environmental impacts, support sustainable development, and improve the aesthetic and cultural aspects of transportation facilities.

These benefits are provided through several major transportation research programs. In the highway area, these programs include the FHWA Highway Research and Development program, the Intelligent Transportation Systems Program, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), and state department of transportation programs largely funded through State Planning and Research funds, among others. In other areas, the primary RD&T programs are those of the FTA and the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) and Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP). The UTC program supports various transportation modes.  

Rationale

Federal transportation research programs continue to be adversely impacted by resource constraints at the federal level. Competition to perform the research projects and selection based on qualifications should remain the essential pillars for an effective research program. The U.S. Department of Transportation must be left with sufficient discretionary funds to maintain core RD&T programs. 

ASCE Policy Statement 497 
First Approved in 2002  
 


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