Task 82, FY 1997, "Feasibility of Replacing the Special Products Evaluation List (SPEL) Database", (Texas A&M Research Foundation). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) had maintained a Special Products Evaluation List (SPEL) for use by the AASHTO member departments and other organizations for more than 20 years. The member departments provided information to FHWA concerning specific new products they were evaluating or had evaluated. FHWA maintained the information in a database and every 2 years through 1991 provided a hard-copy "Blue Book" with the latest SPEL data. Since 1985, the database had been accessible via modem on an FHWA mainframe computer. FHWA had planned to move SPEL to a PC-based system but had been unable to do so because of staff shortages. Little use had been made of SPEL, and the data were becoming outdated. In anticipation of an effort to modify SPEL, the AASHTO Subcommittee on Materials (SOM) decided to survey its members to determine if SPEL was still needed and what improvements might be most beneficial. Three-fourths of the responding members indicated that they supported a move to revive and enhance SPEL; almost all (92 percent) agreed that the data available in SPEL are important. Based on this assessment, there was a need to determine the users' needs and to develop an enhanced system accordingly. A number of viable options existed for development of an enhanced system, including but not limited to the following: a mainframe system with modem access, an Internet site, or a CD-ROM product with updates produced on an annual or quarterly basis. The extent and complexity of the information desired would influence the system design.
The objective of this research was to identify the needs and expectations of the member departments with respect to routine access through SPEL to data and information on proprietary products tested or evaluated under existing state or national programs, such as HITEC, NTPEP, and the Experimental Projects program. A working paper describing the issues and technologies related to the operation of an information clearinghouse for SPEL was completed in December 1996 and sent to the project panel for review. The initial survey of the AASHTO Subcommittee on Materials on the need for SPEL in the future and suggested improvements and enhancements was completed and the results were analyzed. In lieu of interviews, a second written follow-up survey was developed to which 74 responses were received. Based on these results and recommendations, the agency developed a preliminary Internet-based clearinghouse and database, the AASHTO Products Evaluation List, to succeed SPEL. A tentative listing of data items to be considered for inclusion in this database was prepared, and a home page and experimental search page for the website established for alpha testing by the state agencies represented on the project panel. The agency continued operation and alpha-testing of the website through March 31, 1999, pending approval of a resolution by the AASHTO Highway Subcommittee on Materials to maintain its operation by AASHTO through a voluntary contribution of funds by the member departments. (NCHRP Staff: E.T. Harrigan)