This summary assessment and budget analysis is based on the draft strategic implementation plan prepared by the Subcommittee on Physical Infrastructure for Transportation at the request of the full NSTC Transportation Committee.
A full subcommittee report is also being prepared including appendices with a brief overview of the national transportation infrastructure, a concise description of current infrastructure R&D programs, and annotated references to relevant Federal and non-Federal studies and programmatic proposals on the subject.
"...One of the greatest challenges we face is to rehabilitate and maintain the huge stock of infrastructure facilities already in place. With this in mind, the Administration will consider establishing an integrated program of research designed to enhance the performance and longevity of existing infrastructure....This program would systematically address issues of assessment technology and renewal engineering. A strategic program to develop new technologies for assessing the physical condition of the nation's infrastructure, together with techniques to repay and rehabilitate those structures could lead to more cost-effective maintenance of the infrastructure necessary to economic growth." -Clinton-Gore,Technology for America's Economic Growth, A New Direction to Build Economic Strength, February, 1993
"...This transportation infrastructure strengthens America by bringing people and communities closer together, spurring trade and commerce to meet the new demands of a global economy....Our challenge now is to shift our attention from what we've built to how we can make it work better for our country - through the adaptation and modernization of our existing infrastructure....This reinforcing and rebuilding effort can create jobs, improve our quality of life, spur technological development and fuel long-term economic growth."
"...better quality materials for highways and bridges and other technologies, though available today, have not yet been widely applied in America's transportation system."
"Goal 2: Invest strategically in transportation infrastructure, which will increase productivity, stimulate the economy and create jobs."
-Department of Transportation Strategic Plan, January, 1994
The transportation infrastructure of the United States 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 and vitality of this infrastructure are essential to the economic well being and vitality of the Nation. In direct expenditures alone, transportation related activities account for almost 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the United States, with about 15 percent of that applied to construction, operation and maintenance of the systems -- and maintenance of our aging and deteriorating infrastructure systems is more than 80 percent of those 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. Infrastructure renewal is therefore a core element of the DOT Strategic Plan to achieve the goal of a coherent and interconnected multimodal National Transportation System, building upon the recently-announced National Highway System.
Based on the initial assessment of its Interagency Coordinating Committee on Transportation R&D, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) defined renewal of the physical infrastructure of our nation's transportation systems to be a high priority area for Federal research and development. The responsibilities of the Transportation Committee include coordinating and integrating current Federal R&D programs, particularly including the area of transportation physical infrastructure, so that these activities represent a focused national effort. The Transportation Committee seeks to ensure not only that mission-specific R&D needs are adequately addressed, but also that more general cross-cutting research applicable to transportation infrastructure is supported at an appropriate level. In addition, the Committee has the responsibility of maximizing the benefits from synergy and cooperation among the complementary specific programs of each of the several agencies active in the wide range of disciplines, technologies and applications relevant to infrastructure. This document presents an initial summary and analysis of agency budgets from a consistent and integrated perspective.
The subject of this summary assessment results from the NSTC Transportation Committee's having divided transportation research into four broad categories: System Assessment, Physical Infrastructure, Information Infrastructure and Vehicles. Transportation physical infrastructure is here taken to include roads, railroad tracks, transit systems, airports, rail and ship terminals, tunnels, bridges, pipelines, and intermodal facilities. Emphasis in this area is on technologies and procedures associated with operational efficiency, durability, performance, safety, environmental impacts, renewal and maintenance of all categories of transportation physical infrastructure, including real-time inspection and monitoring of infrastructure condition and performance; improved design and construction concepts and practices, processes, structures, materials, resource use, and disposal of construction-process wastes; and design and construction principles and technologies specifically relevant to modal connection points. Many agency programs inherently address subjects that span two or more of the NSTC categories; programs included in this summary are those in which the connection to physical infrastructure has been judged their dominant characteristic. In all areas except freight railroad infrastructure, and some intermodal terminals, the Federal government is heavily involved in transportation infrastructure through trust funds (highway and aviation), other user taxes, and operational responsibilities. Even in the freight rail area, Federal safety responsibilities and the general charter of the Federal Railroad Administration to promote a healthy industry, imply a substantial role in infrastructure.
The President's Technology Policy takes as its first goal "Long term growth that creates jobs and protects the environment," and the NSTC echoes this with the goal of "Job Creation and Economic Growth." Application of these broad objectives to the physical transportation infrastructure yields explicit strategic goals:
Technological advances in many fields in recent years offer great opportunities for transportation physical infrastructure. Developments in the defense, space and consumer sectors have produced a rich inventory of materials, structural design concepts, non-destructive sensing and evaluation, and innovative tools and techniques, awaiting only the effort to develop specific applications to transportation infrastructure, demonstrate their effectiveness and long-term viability, and, often, reduce costs to a competitive level. These provide a basis for specific technical goals arising from the above strategic goals as follows:
The impact of Federal R&D in transportation physical infrastructure occurs largely through its ultimate application by states, localities and the private sector, and is further affected by the level of capital investment and renewal funding available to those parties. Conversion of R&D results into physical structures is a very lengthy process, and true success in reducing life-cycle cost or extending life may require decades for verification. The degree to which the R&D has had an effect is therefore not readily quantified in an objective manner. However, several approaches, building on existing practices, can be followed in establishing a process for evaluating research progress and performance.
The first step will be to define appropriate subsets of the broad range of topics covered by transportation physical infrastructure, and relate them to the strategic goals. These subsets might include categories such as construction materials, non-destructive inspection, and robotics-based maintenance equipment. Targets could then be developed for specific performance measures, and for test and deployment schedules in each area. These steps will be a complex process, which should involve discipline and practitioner experts from governments, the private sector and academia. For those areas receiving major R&D investment, specific peer review bodies can be established, or be created from existing groups. These can operate at several levels: Federal, State/local, industry, and joint among all of these constituencies. Organizations such as the Transportation Research Board and the Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials provide a valuable mechanism for this type of approach. These bodies can then be assigned the task of evaluating research in terms of contribution to meeting the broad strategic goals described above, and as related to the more specific and quantitative targets that will be developed as integrated programs are designed and implemented. Judgments of deployment effectiveness can be based on broad national data assembled by most of the DOT operating administrations, such as the FHWA Performance Monitoring System, for inclusion in the Secretary of Transportation's biennial Report to Congress on Conditions and Performance of the nation's highways, bridges and transit.
Oversight bodies can also seek the judgement of experts as to the success with which the crucial function of technology diffusion occurs, possibly through annual estimates of the time typically required for advances in specific technology areas to proceed from the R&D/laboratory phase to first practical application, and then to widespread use.
Indicators of the health of the infrastructure R&D activity also include more traditional quantifiable measures, such as publication and dissemination of reports and technical papers, implementation of Cooperative R&D Agreements with the private sector, and partnerships with governmental and private organizations, including centers of expertise such as National Laboratories.
Effectiveness of Federal Research. The importance of the nation's transportation infrastructure, need for its renewal, and technological opportunities available for exploitation all imply the value of research in this area, and this view is confirmed by numerous studies conducted within and outside the government. The relatively small size of most construction firms and the fragmented nature of the industry sharply limits the motivation and capacity for private sector R&D. Technical uncertainties, liability issues, contracting rules, and lack of performance standards combine to make the marketplace very risk averse. In practice, virtually all infrastructure R&D;is supported with Federal resources or with resources returned to the states from Federal agencies. The continuity, long-term commitment, and funding of Federal agencies is critical to developing new approaches and assuring effective diffusion to users. The value of this work can be seen in the aggressive application now being made of the results of the Strategic Highway Research Program.
Structure of Federal Research. Current Federal transportation infrastructure R&D, long under severe budget constraints, is based largely on very specific problems and objectives typically of concern to only the performing agency as part of its mission responsibilities. The importance in infrastructure R&D of evaluation and technology transfer accentuates the specificity of much of the work, necessitating and fully justifying separate agency programs. In some areas it is expected that R&D efficiencies can be achieved by restructuring separate research programs or directing funding to joint undertakings and partnerships beyond those that now exist. This would particularly be true were greater funding for generic and cross-cutting research available. Even under current circumstances, however, coordination and integration are clearly of importance. Establishment of the NSTC committees and subcommittees is facilitating and stimulating this process, as well as encouraging collaborative work with non-Federal organizations.
The Administration's Technology Policy places high priority on Federal research as an "engine of economic growth." Technology for America's Economic Growth specifically calls for "[i]ncreasing research on new materials that will allow the construction of infrastructure facilities that are more durable, minimizing the frequency of costly reconstruction" and "[s]upporting renewal engineering programs which target materials and construction methods that would lower the cost of rehabilitating and repairing structures." However, a long period of constrained funding and a necessary research focus on near-term problems has provided little incentive for the involved agencies even to consider broad long-term initiatives. The difficulties in implementing the President's policy at current budget levels are evident in the Office of Technology Assessment's (OTA's) 1991 report on US public works, Delivering the Goods:
"The 1990's thus loom as a pivotal decade for public works. Squeezed by demands for every conceivable type of public service, State and local officials have postponed routine maintenance and rehabilitation of vital infrastructure systems for years. ...[O]fficials are faced by critical shortages of expert management and technical personnel to plan for, implement, and manage new technologies. Liability concerns in both the public and private sectors about the consequences of a new program or equipment that does not perform well are further barriers to new technologies. ...
"Finding solutions to such complex problems is hard enough, even when known technologies can do the job, but choosing among new technologies (that might do better) is even more difficult, because so little is known about how they will actually perform. Only the Federal Government has the resource to support large-scale, applied research and development (R&D) programs for public works, and these have been cut drastically or neglected in recent years. ...
"OTA concludes that changes to Federal program management investment policies, and R&D are needed now, if the opportunities that technology offers for public works are to be fully utilized. Immediate attention should also be given to developing programs to determine the most promising new technologies for public works and long-term strategies for implementing them. [Emphasis OTA]"
OTA specifically identifies three priorities for physical infrastructure R&D: (1) nondestructive evaluation equipment, sensing and measurement; (2) field construction technologies; and (3) materials and corrosion protection. However, the report notes that "Federal R&D has always targeted specific problems identified by the funding agency; consequently, research in Federally funded laboratories and institutions is oriented towards the concerns of the sponsor and usually involves numerous, disparate projects....
"Moreover, State and local public works officials ... do not utilize research products until they have been through a long process of development, evaluation and modification. This length of time and the lack of investment in technology development and evaluation have made public works an unattractive target market for both public and private research facilities, leaving large gaps.
"...Federal investment in R&D to address the condition and capacity problems faced by public works providers across the country is inadequate. Commitment of substantial additional Federal resources for R&D is called for, with the focus on both immediate problems and long-term alternatives. [Emphasis OTA]"
The OTA study echoed other public and private analyses conducted during the 1980's. For example, in 1988 the National Council on Public Works Improvement noted "Unfortunately, innovation and R&D for infrastructure are currently limited and uncoordinated. The level of R&D expenditures is low and the work being undertaken lacks a national focus. Major benefits could be realized if a national program is organized to fill the gaps and to address high priority public works R&D. Such a program must be a comprehensive and coordinated effort involving government, industry, academia, and public works professionals." In both of these studies transportation elements were dominant; in 1989 ninety percent of Federal infrastructure expenditures were transportation-related, with the remaining ten percent for water supply and waste water.
More recently, the Civil Engineering Research Foundation (CERF), an affiliate of the American Society of Civil Engineers, has brought together experts from industry, government and academia to develop a specific strategy and program focusing on high-performance materials: High-Performance CONstruction MATerials and Systems Program (CONMAT). CONMAT, envisioned as a broad public-private undertaking, seeks dramatic reductions in construction schedules and costs, with much-improved system performance, with a cost initially estimated at $2 billion over a ten year period, with half of the funding to be Federal. The CONMAT program, details of which are still being developed, covers all types of construction, not merely for transportation infrastructure; the direct transportation portion of the effort is seen as being approximately one-third of the overall program. This suggests a transportation-related requirement of approximately $35 million per year in Federal funding. [The remainder falls primarily in the NSTC Building and Construction priority assessment area (Civilian Industrial Technologies Committee) and, to some degree in the Environment and Natural Resources area.] Technologies addressed include concrete, steel, wood, asphalt, coatings aluminum, composites, and "smart" materials.
Thus, both the need, and the means by which that need can be satisfied, have been documented by objective and knowledgeable parties. Further, the importance of responding to the need is explicit in Administration policy documents. However, constrained budgets and existing mission responsibilities historically have made it impossible for agencies to address the broader, long-term R&D of the type suggested in the CONMAT program. Without a clear indication of reliable long-term funding, there are neither incentives nor resources for agencies to undertake the very substantial effort required in developing a detailed, comprehensive interagency initiative, intended to last 10 or more years, and integrated with related construction and environmental initiatives.
Based on information provided by the agencies, Federal R&D investment related to transportation physical infrastructure totaled $247 million in FY 1995, with the FY 1996 requests reaching $321 million. A breakdown by agency is shown in Table A. Several important ambiguities must be understood before any conclusions are drawn from these figures.
For many years budget constraints have greatly limited long-term broadly- motivated research. However, under the stimulus of the President's Technology Policy, new initiatives have been defined in the FY 1996 requests. This research was necessarily planned prior to the work of the Transportation Committee and its Physical Infrastructure Subcommittee. While it has not been possible at this point to develop an integrated interagency plan, FY 1996 budgets do include proposed increases in accordance with the policy guidance while also supporting basic mission responsibilities. An integrated interagency initiative can be undertaken in FY 1997. The $34 M (13%) increase from FY 1995 to FY 1996, which includes some growth in existing programs, is associated primarily with accelerating R&D on new materials properties and performance and associated process technologies, and on new NDT methods for assessing infrastructure condition. A very brief description of new agency initiatives in FY 1996 in response to the Administration's Technology Policy and addressing the strategic goals for transportation physical infrastructure follows Table A. Some of the programs described are supported by funds reported by other NSTC committees, and are not reflected in Table A.
It is to be emphasized that the major portion of program funding shown in Table A reflects a base level of ongoing and new research efforts that individual agencies find necessary to meet specific legislated and regulatory missions and responsibilities. These missions and responsibilities typically do reflect at least one of the strategic goals, but the associated R&D very often cannot realistically be considered to be strategic research. In some areas the agencies indicate that current funding levels and staffing, many of which have been flat or shrinking for many years, are at best marginal to meet even those basic responsibilities.
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