The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) “provides stewardship over the construction, maintenance and preservation of the Nation’s highways, bridges and tunnels. FHWA also conducts research and provides technical assistance to state and local agencies in an effort to improve safety, mobility, and livability, and to encourage innovation” (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/). A significant portion of FHWA’s research activities, evolved over many years in response to successive legislative initiatives, is managed by agency research and technology (R&T) program staff housed at the Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center (TFHRC) in McLean, VA, and other locations. The current objectives and priorities of FHWA’s R&T activities are described in the FHWA Research and Technology Agenda. (The Agenda and other documents cited here are available on the Web.) The ultimate aim of R&T activities is to support FHWA’s mission through deployment of innovations spawned by FHWA research.
To ensure that R&T activities are effectively and efficiently contributing to FHWA’s mission, R&T staff apply leading practices in research management and, from time to time, undertake formal evaluations of particular activities, projects, or programs. The Corporate Master Plan for Research and Deployment of Technology & Innovation presents the strategic management framework that FHWA leadership applies to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of R&T activities generally. In addition, FHWA’s R&T staff solicit advice from the Transportation Research Board (TRB), particularly the Research and Technology Coordinating Committee (RTCC). The RTCC issues annual reports commenting on R&T programs generally and suggesting adjustments to program strategies and approaches to improve program relevance, effectiveness, and impact.
Within this context, FHWA in 2014 initiated the "R&T Evaluation Program” to assess and communicate the effectiveness of selected projects within the R&T portfolio. A total of 16 such projects initially were designated for evaluation; these evaluations have been conducted by the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center.
For the next stage of the R&T Evaluation Program, FHWA asked TRB to take a more active role in managing evaluations of selected projects. The objective of this project is to conduct evaluations of specific projects within the FHWA R&T program. These evaluations will be quantitative and indicative of observable contributions of research results to FHWA’s mission and returns on investments of public funds. The reporting of evaluation results is intended to inform FHWA R&T program management and facilitate stakeholder understanding of the value of the R&T program.
The project currently entails evaluation of as many as 5 particular projects designated by FHWA and TRB. Each specific project evaluation is conducted by the evaluation contractor and guided by an oversight panel of five to seven members selected to represent technical expertise and the concerns of likely users of the results of the R&T project being evaluated. Each evaluation includes the following milestones and deliverable products:
Evaluation Scoping Report presenting the objectives, evaluation plan, and likely measures of effectiveness for evaluation of the designated FHWA R&T project,
Evaluation Plan describing the evaluation strategy and specific tasks to be performed, calendar schedule, evaluation team personnel, and intermediate evaluation products,
Interim Report describing the evaluation team’s progress on the Evaluation Plan, difficulties encountered in conducting the work, and any preliminary assessment of research project outcomes supported by work so far accomplished,
Project Evaluation Report documenting the evaluation and presenting the results.
Final reports and periodic progress reports are made to the RTCC. That committee may choose to offer recommendations to the FHWA, based on consideration of the evaluations.