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Summary of Initial-Stage Investigations 2006-2010

Initial Stage Investigations

Following the initial set of think tank forums in 2005, the EAR Program began to conduct smaller, more focused investigations, called Initial Stage Investigations. This process included reference searches of published and unpublished materials, scanning trips to visit leading researchers and laboratories (many in disciplines not traditionally associated with highway research), and workshops convened to bring together researchers from different fields and leaders in highway research to explore how fundamental scientific and engineering advances could respond to current or emerging highway needs.

How Initial-Stage Investigations Lead to EAR Program Investment in High-Return Research

Not all innovative ideas lead to EAR Program investments. Of the 15 to 20 ideas that the EAR Program considers annually, about one in four actually lead to funded research. The EAR Program seeks to leverage advances in science and engineering that could lead to breakthrough research for critical current and emerging issues in highway transportation. The focus of this effort is to investigate issues that can be clearly articulated but where solutions are not obvious and to engage a community of experts from different disciplines who likely have the talent and the interest to research solutions but would not otherwise be able to do so without EAR Program funding.

Focus Areas

Breakthrough Concepts in Materials Science

This focus area leverages new approaches in materials science to produce innovative new highway materials with characteristics that enable enhanced functionality (which includes constructability, sustainability, cost-effectiveness, and operating characteristics), multifunctionality, or system-monitoring sensors to enhance highway safety, reliability, and resilience.

Breakthrough Concepts in Materials Science Summary
Newly Developed Metallic CoatingsEvaluation of newly developed metallic compounds to determine whether these new materials can be used as a coating to prevent corrosion of critical structural parts of steel bridges such as steel girders and bearings.
Fly AshExamination of fly ash use in cement and in concrete—particularly the use of high volume fly ash in concrete for pavement and structures.
Cement Hydration WorkshopConvening of the International Summit on Cement Hydration Kinetics and Modeling in Canada, which was designed to get the research community together to discuss competing theories and experiments and identify holes in the data required for proper modeling of hydration.
Electrorheological and Magnetorheological FluidsProvision of recently published or ongoing research that discusses infrastructure, civil engineering, and highways as they pertain to electrorheological fluids, magnetorheological fluids, and structures that use nanoscale materials to provide heat-resistant or fire-retardant properties.
Shape Memory AlloysExploration of the use of shape memory alloys (SMAs) in civil infrastructure. Although SMAs have been applied in other fields (e.g., biomedical, aerospace, and mechanical engineering), they have yet to be fully exploited for their potential in civil infrastructure. Breakthroughs in material science and metallurgy have resulted in a set of conditions that make it possible to evaluate the efficacy of applying these materials to civil infrastructure systems. In particular, these materials have the ideal properties to be used in the multihazard risk mitigation of bridges, with potential applications in earthquakes, hurricanes, storm-surge loading, and blast loads.
Nondestructive EvaluationIdentification of research since 2006 that pertains to new methods of or advances in nondestructive evaluation of corrosion detection in reinforced concrete structures.

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Human Behavior and Travel Choices

This focus area leverages research concepts from the social sciences, including psychology and economics, along with more traditional research for the improvement of safety, reduction of congestion, and improvement of the livability of the Nation's communities.

Human Behavior and Travel Choices Summary
Future Directions in Highway Crash Data Modeling WorkshopA workshop designed to explore promising future directions in highway crash data modeling and to develop a program of advanced research to provide a theoretic foundation for explaining crash causation. The primary focuses of the workshop were on the effect highway infrastructure elements have on safety, the promotion of further development of science-based safety evaluation, and the facilitation of the development of more stable, reliable, and transferrable highway safety predictive models.

The field of highway safety engineering has advanced to a point where it needs to transition to a more formal development of theoretic principles to ensure the effective use of limited research funding and to establish a foundation for future scientific advancement. Moreover, the development of theoretic principles will provide a sound basis for educating new safety professionals and advancing safety science. These principles would form the basis for both the development of models that estimate the safety of a facility for a given set of conditions and for the estimation of the change in safety that would result from a change in condition. These models would then form the basis for future editions of the Highway Safety Manual and the safety simulation models that might complement it.
Dynamic Origin-Destination Modeling ResearchIdentification of research advances over a 20-year period (1987– 2008) that estimate origin–destination (OD) tables from traffic counts, the conversion of traffic counts into OD tables, the formation of OD tables with dynamic traffic counts, and the estimation of OD tables using traffic counts.
Superstreet Intersection DesignIdentification of advances from the past two decades that focus on relieving intersection congestion through the establishment of “Superstreet ” (also known as “Super Street ” or “J-Street ”) intersection designs.
Visual Requirements for Human Drivers and Autonomous VehiclesIdentification of relevant literature to determine the quantity and quality of visual information needed under both driving modes ( human and autonomous) to navigate roads safely, especially as it pertains to two-lane, curved, rural roads at night.
National Travel Demand ModelingExploration of new technologies available to the transportation operations community as it continues on a path to an ever-growing, data-rich environment in which traffic data are harvested from a variety of sources and technologies. At one time, traffic data were collected primarily with intrusive and expensive point-based technologies. Several new technologies and business models are augmenting traditional approaches to provide broad-based speed and travel-time data. New methods and technology are typically nonintrusive or minimally intrusive compared to traditional loops, allowing greater deployment with less investment. These new methods include everything from less-expensive and easier-to-deploy point-based systems—such as those based on radar technology or magnetometers to link travel time sampling technologies (e.g., Bluetooth® traffic monitoring)—to broad area sampling, based on fleet Global Positioning System (GPS) data or cellular phone transmission data. All of these sources combined are swiftly improving the breadth and accuracy of traffic data.
Agent-Based ModelingInvestigation of agent-based modeling and simulation (ABMS) techniques and their applications in transportation research. ABMS has historical roots in complex adaptive systems, which were motivated by investigations into adaptation and emergence of biological systems. ABMS techniques have been applied to solve practical problems in the fields of manufacturing, epidemiology, archaeology, biowarfare, autonomous vehicle networks, and biology, as well as in both consumer and electric power markets.

ABMS architecture has three basic components: user interface (collects input data and displays output data), simulation engine (performs the simulation work), and data storage (provides persistence for agents and their environment). An agent in an agent-based modelling simulation is a decisionmaker in a system (e.g., a driver). The fundamental features that make something a candidate to be modeled as an agent include the capability of the component to make independent decisions, a goal on which to focus the decisions, and the ability of other components to tag or individually identify the component. Use of ABMS in transportation research is relatively new, however, ABMS has strong potential to considerably improve the capability of existing traffic simulation in modeling driver behavior. If drivers are set as agents in ABMS, researchers will be able to simulate items such as a driver’s mode and route choices, lane change and gap acceptance tendencies, and reactions to various changes and conditions in a transportation network.

Experimental EconomicsCoverage of the development of experimental economics research. Provides a list of universities that run experimental economics laboratories and their areas of specialty in the United States and in developed western countries. Several of the institutions do not necessarily specialize in readily definable areas of experimental economics applications: some of the laboratories function primarily as hosts for external researchers, driven by the latter’s areas of interest, while other laboratories pursue the varied expertise of the researchers overseeing them.
Megaregion Travel Forecasting ModelsExploration of the transportation needs of megaregions as they expand across the United States. FHWA’s draft strategic plan, released in July 2008, identifies seven key trends in transportation, including megaregional planning. The U.S. population is expected to expand to 363 million by 2030 and 420 million by 2050, with growth concentrated in the South and West. More than 70 percent of population growth, and 80 percent of economic growth, will occur in metropolitan areas. The Nation’s megaregions will be the operative regions when competing in the future global economy. One of the challenges of this research is to determine how to foster greater efficiencies in these megaregions by creating a stronger infrastructure and technology backbone in the Nation’s surface transportation system. The Megaregions and Transportation Planning Project contains both a quantitative and qualitative research effort, including literature reviews, structured interviews, a constructive symposium, framework development, and methodology refinement to identify megaregions in the United States. More information is available on this website.
National Transportation Demand ModelInvestigation of the development of a multimodal national transportation demand model. This model will provide USDOT and FHWA with the capability to conduct multimodal analysis of national and multistate regional travel and congestion, test the effectiveness of national policies, and provide a framework for system performance measurement. It will also provide State highway agencies with origin-to-destination data on interstate passenger travel for statewide planning.
Organizations and Researchers Studying Future-Oriented Integrated Systems of Multimodal ConnectivityResearch of literature, documentation, and websites, with the goal of identifying specific researchers and organizations who are considering the future (i.e., >20 years from now) orientation needs of multimodal connectivity— with a focus on integrated systems and speculation on modes that may not currently exist. The search may lead to a separate list comprised of passengers and one for freight.
Searching for Solutions, the 21st Century Transportation Policy DiscussionSynthesis of the multifaceted issues facing highway transportation as the system faces new challenges to deliver and implement passenger and freight systems that meet the needs of mobility and economic growth. The Office of Transportation Policy Studies examined challenges and solutions across a broad range of topics: 1) implementation issues for user fees based on vehicle miles traveled; 2) issues and options with respect to infrastructure banks; 3) achieving intermodal interoperability; 4) optimal fees for commercial motor vehicles; 5) financial structures for megaregion projects; 6) implications of alternative fuels; 7) meeting the needs of the aging population; 8) role of the Federal government in solving urban transportation congestion; and other topics. 
Pedestrian Safety and Technology Innovations for Vision-Impaired PedestriansInvestigation of technological advancements that could help to empower people with disabilities and address their mobility needs. The benefits of such advancements have not yet reached this segment of the traveling public; however, the suite of new technologies, such as wireless dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), GPS, object detection, and robotics, could be packaged together to develop innovative ways to help people with disabilities (in particular, people with vision or cognitive impairments) and others become more mobile and independent.
Safety in NumbersIdentification of international literature that addresses the "safety in numbers" theory and whether it can be tested using driving and cycling simulators; the validation of simulation results with data from naturalistic driving behavior experiments; and the possibility or value in having naturalistic cycling data.
Simulation of Roadside Behavior and Conflicts Using Traffic SimulationIdentification of studies that highlight the simulation of roadside behavior and conflicts using traffic simulation, with a focus on both national and international sources from the 1980s to the most current literature.

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Integrated Highway System Concepts

This focus area emphasizes the longer-term needs to reach critical departmental safety and mobility goals by developing the theory and assessing feasibility for systems that leapfrog current technological approaches designed to link infrastructure with future vehicle and personal mobile technology.

Integrated Highway System Concepts Summary
Motorcycle Safety Research WorkshopA 2007 workshop explored the use of DSRC and aimed to capture any transfer of odometer data with vehicle manufacturers and owners. Also identified and studied possible ways of measuring motorcycle exposure besides vehicle-miles traveled.
Vehicle Positioning and Navigation ResearchIdentification of research to better characterize and understand existing and emerging technologies for vehicle positioning and navigation.
Exploratory Advanced Research on Traffic SimulationIdentification of research from the past two decades that addresses traffic flow and car-following simulation in: inclement weather conditions; traffic/highway incidents; dilemma (option) zones; red-light–running situations; special event /rare event /emergency situations; work zones (and work zone delays, detours, and travel time situations); shock wave analysis; disruption of traffic flow; car-following in congested conditions; traffic congestion sections; vehicle crash analysis; traffic conflict/vehicle-crash/near-crash situations; traffic safety situations; and artificial neural network application in simulations.
Automated Vehicles, Types, and Numbers from the United States and Other Leading CountriesExamination of literature, documentation, websites, and statistics from 2004 that addressed the types and numbers of automated vehicles in the United States and in other leading countries.
Integrated Active Transportation SystemsInvestigation of Integrated Active Transportation Systems, a concept that takes into consideration all safety factors— vehicle, road, human factors, and emergency response work— cooperatively and in real time. Under this concept, all possible safety events would be completely laid out and coordinated and all factors would be addressed through a common set of information and assumptions. A continuous assessment of infrastructure performance (e.g., pavement condition, weather, road geometry), operations and traffic, vehicle capacity (e.g., type, condition), and driver performance (e.g., restrictions and impairments) would result in real-time assessment of safety performance and appropriate driver warning or vehicle actions to ensure safety and trigger emergency notification.
Traffic Operations and ManagementIdentification of research (from 2001 to present) that addresses traffic operations and management in severe weather conditions and in emergency evacuation scenarios.
Innovative Traffic ManagementInvestigation into potential topics for exploratory advanced research. These include open information technology architecture for integrating models at different scales or representing different systems, and expert systems and information visualization for decisionmakers, public use, and system operators.
Portable Rubbernecking Prevention DeviceIdentification of literature and resources about portable devices for the elimination of rubbernecking after major accidents and other significant events. Targets both domestic and international sources from 2000 to the present.

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New Technology and Advanced Policies for Energy and Resource Conservation

This focus area cuts across infrastructure, operations, and societal and complex natural systems to support innovative methods for reducing highway industry costs and moving towards sustainability.

New Technology and Advancing Policies for Energy and Resource Conservation Summary
Climate ChangeExamination of alternative financing methods that provide for a sustainable system while providing incentives for travelers and agencies. Current highway financing is based primarily on fuel tax conflicts, with the potential need to reduce vehicle miles of travel as a strategy for lessening the release of greenhouse gasses (GHGs) and the impact of long-term climate change. 
Reducing the Greenhouse Gas Impact of Freight MovementsAnalysis of the carbon fuel utilization and GHG emissions resulting from freight shipments. The research evaluates current and new freight pubic policies and investments that can reduce GHG emissions related to freight movements. Some metropolitan planning organizations and States have already invested in local solutions; this research utilizes a national scope to examine local, State, and Federal solutions within the framework of freight-focused policy models. The research identified and expanded efforts and explored innovative next-generation methods and solutions.
Biological Carbon Sequestration ProtocolsIdentification of a process or program that could demonstrate the value of sequestering or capturing carbon from highway right-of-way through modified maintenance and management practices. The Carbon Sequestration Protocol was designed to help a State department of transportation (DOT) reduce emissions and maintenance costs, generate revenue on an appropriate market, and foster ancillary environmental services benefits, such as reduced erosion, better retention of stormwater in soil, enhanced ability to hold snow, and improved wildlife habitat.
Ecosystem ServicesExamination of ecosystem service markets, a concept that sees each service identified and parsed to fungible units that can be bought and sold on an open market. The vision is that service providers (e.g., land owners) and buyers (e.g., FHWA) can “meet” in a virtual marketplace that is regulated and approved by agencies with legal authorities. In effect, these services result in a tradable commodity such as tons of carbon or phosphorus, or a derivative such as insurance against extinction of a species. Such a compliance market already exists under the Clean Air Act for sulfur dioxide pollution. Advancing this concept could potentially provide FHWA an alternative means of compliance with environmental laws that results in faster permitting, less expensive mitigation, or both. Many issues of policy and science must be addressed before a “one-stop shopping” market will come to fruition that would work for both the regulatory and regulated communities.  For more information, read the fact sheet
Energy Efficient Vehicle RoutingInvestigation of energy-efficient vehicle routing. This research was designed as real-time software that looked at traffic control systems and provided navigational data to commercial vehicles. The view was to identify system attributes to find traffic patterns. The objective was to reduce congestion caused by commercial vehicle operation.
Net Zero HighwaysInvestigation into the range of activities from cradle to cradle that would reduce to zero the overall use of energy and materials for highway construction, operation, maintenance, reconstruction, and eventual reuse. There is a wide range of research that examined elements of this broader question. There may be interest in this area with the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation Directorate for Engineering, as well as with State DOTs, given the potential triple-bottom-line advantages.
System AdaptationExploration of new materials and designs that could avoid or reduce the potential costs associated with damage from natural disasters. It is predicted that climate change may lead to increasing demands on the transportation system from increased coastal storms, rainfall, and heat waves.  The research looked at new materials, designs, and instrumentation related to bridge scour and related investigations into SMAs.
Underground Highway Transportation StructuresExamination of population growth, especially in urban environments, which presents a major challenge to the advancement of sustainability goals. Geoengineering of the subsurface may provide the means to reduce energy use, reduce the use of construction materials, increase green space preservation, sustainably store water, locate critical infrastructure, prevent and reverse degradation of the urban environment, and enhance quality of life. Many urban areas already see the benefits of using underground space; for example, the underground Interstate 93 (I–93) Central Artery and the I–90 extension (both in Boston), though expensive and controversial, have resulted in improvements in peak-period travel times through downtown Boston. Although it is likely not feasible to extend entire transportation systems underground, it may be reasonable to develop extensive underground transportation systems, including roads, streets, and public transit, in large and developing urban areas to avoid future legacy problems.
Designing the National Environmental Policy Act From ScratchExploration of conceptual research on how the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) would be designed from scratch (not revised, amended, or reformed). This could be an alternate history and address what would be in place if NEPA never existed. It may be necessary to look at analogous examples for other major regulatory programs that were repealed or rewritten from scratch rather than amended, possibly in the fields of political science and history.

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Technology for Assessing Performance

This focus area seeks novel approaches and breakthrough technology that will revolutionize the use of performance management in the highway sector.

Technology for Assessing Performance Summary
Development of Smart Particles that Measure Hydraulic Parameters Remotely During Storm EventsThis advanced research topic needs an extensive market search to draft a clear and realistic research scope. The scanning and convening activity led to an international meeting at TFHRC that identified the following aspects of this research topic: Is this research topic realistic? Can it be done? What is already available? What difficulties have to be considered? Who are the potential candidates to conduct this research? What is the timeframe and funding needed?
Establishing Highway Performance Measures—Travel Time and Speed ReliabilityThe Office of Highway Policy Information (HPI) has been collecting travel data on a national level for more than half a century. Over the last 20 years, aided by more than 6,000 automated traffic recorders operated by State highway agencies, HPI has been able to gather current data on vehicle and truck volumes and truck weight. Based on these data, HPI publishes the monthly Traffic Volume Trends report, regarded as one of the top indicators of both demand and utilization of transportation infrastructure facilities. Scanning and convening activities related to this topic explored the potential to capture the various speed data and develop methodologies to utilize both the speed and volume data to establish a systemwide travel time/speed matrix for the entire National Highway System. The new speed data, coupled with volume data (number of vehicles), would indicate the system demand and performance.
Large-Area, Low-Cost Pedestrian CountingExamination of possible cost-effective, accurate, automated pedestrian counting technologies that can collect data and produce data reports (note that, if feasible, the counting technology should also detect and count bicyclists). Benefits of these new technologies include improved data-collection procedures, time savings in conducting and analyzing counts, the ability to easily do counts at many locations simultaneously, improved reliability for pedestrian safety research (e.g., before-and-after studies) to better determine effective treatments, creation of  levels-of-use for facilities, examination of seasonal issues in pedestrian volumes, and cross tabulation of pedestrian data with vehicle data to determine exposure rates, a resource for improved pedestrian planning.
Remote Sensing for NEPA ReportThe National Consortium for Remote Sensing in Transportation Streamlining Environmental and Planning Processes raised the following ideas for potential future research that could be investigated under the EAR Program: 1) Predictive archeological model. The report noted that the Minnesota DOT already developed a model and there are similar nontransportation applications of remote sensing to find archeological mounds in the southeast and in Central America. Is there an opportunity and a need to investigate approaches used outside of transportation? 2) Unmanned air vehicles. The EAR Program has had other initial investigations in the use of unmanned air vehicles but found limited opportunities in the use of this technology for pavement or bridge condition assessment. Is there a good opportunity in using the technology for environmental assessment? 3) Predictive models for location of endangered species or hazardous waste. The report noted data limitations in environmental mapping. There are breakthroughs in information sciences applied to other fields (e.g., oil and minerals, defense, health) that may assist with predictive spatial models where there is limited data or data gaps.
Exploring the Development of an Efficient Traffic Speed Data Collection and Computation Algorithm Through Cloud ComputingIdentification of literature that explores the development of an efficient traffic speed data-collection and computation algorithm through cloud computing, targeting both domestic and international sources from 2000 to the present.
Smart Balls for Culvert InspectionDetermination of whether neutrally buoyant sensors have the ability to map the airspace and underwater space of a concrete or corrugated steel culvert with enough detail to diagnose areas of failure of culvert walls.
Structural Foundation Condition Assessment Exploration of technology for assessing the conditions of below-grade structural foundations. Technology currently exists that can look at geological conditions at above-ground structural conditions; however, there are limitations for assessment of below-grade structural elements. This research has a particular focus in nondestructive technology; there may be examples from dams, power plants, canals, or bulkheads.

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Nanoscale Research

This focus area cuts across all functional areas and takes advantages of higher magnitudes of investment from other agencies to support greater highway system resilience, improved safety and operations, and reduced environmental impacts. It encompasses modeling and measuring phenomena to increase an understanding of properties as well as the application of scientific advances from other fields critical to improving the safety, reliability, and resilience of the highway system.

Nanoscale Research Summary
Nanoscale ResearchIdentification of literature, websites, and other information resources (2004–present) that address nanoscale research, specifically focusing on operations and safety issues.

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Information Sciences

This crosscutting focus area takes advantage of paradigm-shifting breakthroughs found across academia, government, and the private sector in the computer and information technology fields—including automation, data-processing and management, computing, cyber (or virtual) systems, communication, and visualization.

Information Sciences Summary
Geographic InformationDiscussion of the role of geographic information science and technology in helping to create new ways of exploring and understanding transportation systems, with the goal of improving decisionmaking by both professionals and casual users. In the past, the strategy for managing transportation demand was simply to build more infrastructure; however, there are now severe financial, environmental, and social constraints put upon infrastructure expansion. The convergence of ballooning demand and limited expansion has created enormous pressures on transportation systems. The only choice is greater understanding of these complex systems and more informed decisionmaking by transportation professionals and the public who use these systems.
GPS, Sensing, and Image TechnologiesIdentification of literature and websites that address GPS technologies (transferable applications and accuracy), sensing technologies ( e.g., Laser Detection and Ranging or Light Detection and Ranging), and image-processing (or machine-vision) technologies.

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Updated: Monday, December 2, 2019