The National Academies

NCHRP 20-106 [Final]

Framing Surface Transportation Research for the Nation's Future

  Project Data
Funds: $750,000
Approximately $100,000 were expended in preliminary research following completion of NCHRP Projects 20-87 and 20-88.
Research Agency: TRB Studies and Special Programs Division
Completion Date: 3/22/2017

Surface transportation in the United States has seen numerous major improvements and policy innovations informed by research: safer and more fuel-efficient automobiles, more durable and economical pavement designs, real-time tracking of cargo shipments, and a resurgence of freight rail following deregulation of the railroad industry, to cite but a few examples. Currently, the U.S. surface transportation research enterprise is characterized by a diversity of participants, activities, and funding sources and is highly decentralized, with most research programs initiated from the bottom up. As a result, much of the current research aims at specific problems identified by sponsors and is relatively short term, focused on individual modes (highway or rail, for example), and is applied in nature.

Leaders within the transportation community have questioned whether the current U.S. approach to surface transportation research will lead to the kinds of innovations in transportation services and policies needed to support national goals for economic development, safety, mobility, competitiveness, and sustainability in the 21st century. NCHRP supported development of TRB’s Special Report 313: Framing Surface Transportation Research for the Nation’s Future that explores opportunities for improving the productivity of U.S. expenditures on surface transportation research by building on lessons learned from transportation research in other countries and from research in non-transportation sectors in the United States.  According to the committee that produced the report, the timely development of a new national research framework that engages the public, private, academic, and nonprofit sectors and draws on the nation’s research capacity in academia, industry, and elsewhere is needed.

The objective of this project was to initiate development of that framework by convening key stakeholders to identify the principal dimensions and initial elements of such a framework and actions to be taken to make the framework effective. Preliminary research by TRB’s Studies and Special Programs Division, including a workshop of experts from industry, government, and academia, concluded that the new research effort is unlikely to make substantial progress toward achieving the goals and implementing strategies envisioned in SR 313.  A decision to terminate the project was adopted in the 2nd quarter of CY 2017. 

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