Subcommittee Reviews Surface Transportation R&D Priorities to Maximize Taxpayer Investments

Jun 14, 2011
Subcommittee Reviews Surface Transportation R&D Priorities to Maximize Taxpayer Investments

Washington, DC - Today the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing to review the research, development, and technology (RD&T) activities of the Department of Transportation (DOT). A diverse panel of witnesses weighed in on issues related to funding levels, prioritization of current research initiatives, and maximizing the efficiency of research activities.

“Advancements in materials and technology can help achieve long-term cost savings by reducing congestion, and improving the durability and lifespan of our transportation projects,” said Subcommittee Chairman Ben Quayle (R-AZ).  “It is therefore critical that we find a way to maintain a healthy, substantive research base behind our state and local transportation initiatives.”

DOT annually supports more than $600 million in RD&T deployment activities focused on surface modes of transportation (rail, transit, motor carrier and highway), representing approximately one percent of federal expenditures on highways.  Witnesses debated whether the long-term research needs of the nation are being adequately addressed.  In November 2008, the Transportation Research Board produced a report making a number of recommendations for change to highway research programs, including improved engagement of the research community in the priority-setting process and subjecting research programs to merit-review.  While supporting a competitive approach, several Members today also stressed the need for continuity of research investments, particularly within the University Transportation Center (UTC) program.  DOT recently announced changes to the program that will impact FY11 funding for all 59 existing UTCs, as well as several other research programs.

The pending surface transportation reauthorization presents an opportunity to ensure transportation RD&T activities are aligned with national transportation priorities and to examine how these initiatives will further the states’ ability to incorporate transformational research results into their transportation systems.

Mr. John Halikowski, Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, said that “Innovation through research allows state agencies—even with today’s fiscally challenging circumstances -- to efficiently deliver a safe, reliable and sustainable transportation system while continuously improving facilities and services.” Stressing the importance of research implementation and technology transfer, Halikowski said that “multiple and varied efforts are underway to move research into practice, and the variety of methods to do this are dependent on the actual results and specific solutions.”

Dr. Irwin Feller, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Pennsylvania State University, stated that existing research programs “are overly restrictive, prescriptive, and inflexible.”  He argued that new research provisions “should be based on setting forth broad national transportation objectives” giving researches greater flexibility in solving problems.

 

The following witnesses testified today before the Committee:
The Honorable Peter Appel, Administrator, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation
Mr. John Halikowski, Director, Arizona Department of Transportation; Chair, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Standing Committee on Research
Mr. David Gehr, Senior Vice President, Highway Market, Parsons Brinckerhoff; Chairman, American Society of Civil Engineers Transportation Policy Committee
Dr. Irwin Feller, Professor Emeritus of Economics, Pennsylvania State University; Senior Visiting Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Ms. Lynn Peterson, Transportation Policy Advisor, Office of Governor John Kitzhaber (OR)