Research, Education & Training Policy
Last updated September 2014
One of the most important contributors to a nation’s economy and quality of life is transportation – the mobility of freight and people. Any advanced society must be able to move people and goods efficiently. Transportation is key to the specialization of labor, globalization of trade, urbanization and the resulting concentration of labor, networking of organizations, lean manufacturing, efficient management of procurement and inventory, and a host of other business functions critical to a developed economy. Mobility is also critical to achieving a high quality of life whose attributes include socialization, recreation, entertainment, fellowship, shopping and more.
Transportation, as an economic sector, contributes significantly to the economy in its own right. It constitutes 10 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) accounting for $1.5 trillion annually. What’s more, there are 12.3 million people employed in transportation related industries. Further, it is the second largest household expenditure by major category, accounting for 17 percent of total expenditures, exceeded only by housing.
Given transportation’s pre-eminent importance it is critical that the state-of-the-practice in planning, design, construction, maintenance and management of the transportation system be continually advanced. Research, development and implementation of new technologies, along with a well-educated and highly trained workforce are crucial to that advancement. It is the feedstock for the much-needed continuous improvement of transportation vital to the United States socioeconomic system. In fact, U.S. global and domestic competitiveness depends on the continuous improvement of our mobility.
I. Research, Innovation, and Technology Transfer: Critical Elements for Enhancing Accessibility and Competitiveness through Improved Transportation Infrastructure and System Performance
- Integrate transportation research through a single national strategic research plan.
Given the importance of research to the continued development of transportation and limited resources to conduct research, a nationally integrated strategic plan for transportation research should be developed by stakeholders (federal, state, private sector, and universities) based on on-going efforts of the RTCC, SHRP2, and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) strategic plan that provides the necessary guidance for maximizing the contribution that research can make to transportation.
- Expand federal funding for research.
Increased federal investment in research is essential to a robust and competitive national transportation system. Research adds value to the field of transportation by improving the overall cost-effectiveness, durability, safety and environmental soundness of highway and bridge projects to meet national mobility requirements. Public and private highway research is funded at only about one-quarter the level of industrial research and development in the United States (highway RD&T represents only 0.9 percent of revenues provided to highway agencies, whereas industrial investment in RD&T is equivalent to 3.3 percent of revenues earned from sales).
Federal surface transportation research activities should include projects that address public transportation, construction materials, innovative technologies, intelligent processes and methods, mitigating traffic congestion during construction and maintenance, improving motorist and highway worker safety during construction and maintenance, inventive contracting and financing, and promote the testing and experimental use of innovative technologies and materials. Federally funded policy research is also needed to inform future decision making on national transportation policy, as is research on the many institutional, social, and environmental issues that have an important bearing on mobility. The longstanding federal-state partnership in highway research has been highly successful and should be sustained.
Safety should continue as a priority for federal research activities. Safety research should seek to apply new technologies and other innovative approaches to help advance new safety initiatives.
- Ensure federal research funds are based on merit.
To maximize the benefit of limited federal research dollars, investments in research should be merit based and used consistently with the strategic research plan referred to above. Wherever appropriate, research dollars should be awarded on a competitive basis to ensure that maximum value can be derived from the available resources. Merit reviews and performance-based evaluations should include panels of external stakeholders and technical experts, including individuals from federal and state organizations, educational institutions, and the private sector.
- Adequately fund university research.
Institutions of higher education are uniquely positioned to provide solutions to complex problems, to contribute to the development of human capital, and to give local, regional, state and national governments opportunities to develop a university research program that will focus on each jurisdiction’s individual transportation challenges. Substantial federal investment in the University Transportation Centers Program with 20 percent matching requirement for federal funds would capitalize on this critical role and allow each state to participate in resolving regional and national issues through partnerships with other universities.
- Invest in federal technology transfer initiatives.
Significant investment should be made in technology transfer and in information sharing and dissemination activities to support the innovation process across the full range of research topic areas. Such initiatives play a vital role in ensuring that the latest knowledge and information are utilized for transportation improvement projects. These initiatives should also seek to enhance the safety, quality, and durability of the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
II. Education and Training: Critical Elements for Addressing Workforce Development Issues in the Transportation Industry
- Sustained federal and stakeholder investment are needed for education and training.
All stakeholders play a role in workforce development. Investment in education and training makes business sense, as a better workforce improves safety, quality, efficiency and effectiveness.
A substantial, sustained federal funding stream is needed to facilitate dedicated partnerships among public and private stakeholders and to implement specific programs to address workforce needs. One key issue is to avoid duplication of efforts.
- Establish a pipeline for workforce development.
The industry needs to establish a seamless “pipeline” to prepare, engage and attract new workers to the transportation industry. It is also necessary to develop and train the entire transportation workforce at all levels, not just the professional side of the industry. Key to this initiative is improving the image of the transportation industry and showing the future opportunities and career paths available to workers.
- Develop partnerships to address education and training.
Industry stakeholders must partner with the secondary education, vocational training, community college, academic and government communities to meet the challenges of transportation workforce development. Partnerships will allow groups to leverage resources and avoid duplication. In particular, community colleges are an underutilized resource for preparing for jobs in the transportation industry.
- Education, Continued training and life-long learning.
The industry must provide effective education and needs-based training to address immediate challenges in workforce development. Education and training should address three major areas: effective education for tomorrow’s transportation professionals, training programs for construction trades, and continuing education and training for both working transportation professionals and those in the construction trades. These programs should be developed with industry and agency partners.
III. Transportation Research, Education and Technology Transfer Reauthorization Recommendations
Strong federal investment in transportation research and education is crucial to the long-term efficiency and economic strength of the transportation construction industry, our nation’s infrastructure network, and future economic growth. The Transportation Research Board of the National Academies of Science estimates that annual funding for transportation research from all sources is $823 million annually, representing just 0.88 percent of the industry’s “sales” or expenditures. This percentage is significantly lower than the national average of 3.34 percent for all industries.[i] The sources of transportation research funding consist of: the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT)—42 percent of total; state transportation departments —40 percent; and the private sector—18 percent.
The members of the ARTBA Research and Education Division recommend that the overall level of transportation research investment should be 3.3 percent of total public-sector surface transportation expenditures. At the very minimum, the authorization and obligation for federal highway and public transportation research and education should be increased in the same proportion as the overall increase in each corresponding core program.. Funding for transportation research, education and technology transfer programs should continue to be sourced from the Highway Trust Fund, as these activities are core to developing new ways to design, build, maintain and manage transportation infrastructure.
Additional recommendations include:
- Cooperative research programs such as the Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP), National Cooperative Freight Research Program (NCFRP), and Hazardous Materials Cooperative Research Program (HMCRP) have produced critically important research results in their respective areas of study, and should be funded over and above FHWA’s core research and training (R&T) program. The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) should be funded at a level of $10 million per year. The National Cooperative Freight Research Program should be reestablished to fund research in areas including transportation freight and hazardous materials at a level of $5 million per year, to be administered through the National Academy of Sciences.
- University Transportation Centers (UTCs) significantly advance transportation research for a range of challenges in both the public and private sectors while attracting and training new transportation professionals. Further, their distribution across the country at a variety of institutions ensures that the research, education and training needs of the entire country are met. Therefore, the UTC program should have increased funding under the new bill, at a level at least at the $85 million called for in the Administration’s budget. To enhance competition, the competition for the tiers should be conducted sequentially, with the most highly funded tier competing first and the least funded tier last. Restrictions prohibiting free and open participation across Tiers as a lead or as a participant should be eliminated, as these restrict institutions with multiple areas of expertise from contributing fully to the program. Finally, the existing requirement to address only one U.S. DOT focus area per center is counter to the principle of open competition. Centers should be free to choose their own themes and should demonstrate how that theme addresses one or more of DOT’s focus areas. This is particularly important for regional centers, which can and should address a variety of regional issues that may be uniquely important to that region, and can also act as a focal point of transportation research, education, and technology transfer for the region. Regional UTCs can strengthen collaborations within a region, between universities, as well as between academia and the public and private sectors, in order to address a wide variety of regional issues.
- Local Technical Assistance Programs (LTAP) and Tribal Technical Assistance Programs (TTAP) provide useful and up-to-date information to local governments, agencies, and tribal governments responsible for over 3 million miles of roadway and over 300,000 bridges in the United States, and as such should be continued as eligible activities within the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Training and Education Program.
- There is a need in the national transportation community to share best practices and data across federal, state, and local governments and agencies in order to collectively learn and improve from others. Therefore, ARTBA RED encourages continued federal support for several efforts, including research deployment and information exchange concepts (including Transportation Knowledge Management, the National Transportation Library, and research coordination and information management, among others) and databases to support performance management, such as the bridge, pavement, and safety databases.
- The new surface transportation authorization legislation should maintain the State Planning and Research program, with its 25 percent minimum for R&T activities, as a critical component to support individual and collective state priorities.
- The new legislation should also provide sufficient funding for FHWA to carry out research, technology, and implementation activities in all areas of transportation, including SHRP2, structures, pavements, planning, environment, policy, operations, safety, and research and innovation support.
 U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics