The National Academies

NCHRP 20-126(03) [Pending]

Advancing Practices of In Situ Nondestructive Evaluation of Highway System Asset Foundational Condition and Capability

  Project Data
Funds: $150,000
Contract Time: 12 months
Staff Responsibility: Andrew C. Lemer



The Transportation Research Board in 2019 published two documents presenting wide-ranging perspectives on matters of importance to the future of the nation’s transportation system and its capabilities to support our continued prosperity. The first of these documents, Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System: A Foundation for the Future (CIHS), the product of a congressionally mandated study, presented a series of recommendations for government actions needed “to upgrade and restore the Interstate Highway System to fulfill its role as a crucial national asset, serving the needs of people, cities and towns, businesses, and the military while remaining the safest highway network in the country” (CIHS, p. viii). The second document, Critical Issues in Transportation 2019 (CIT2019), was prepared by the TRB Executive Committee to frame high-level questions that can be addressed during the next 5 to 10 years through research, policy analysis, and debate to help society prepare for potentially unprecedented changes likely to affect our transportation system’s service to individuals and society (CIT2019, p. 2).


Considering the contributions our highway system makes to the nation’s economy and well-being and the age of many of the physical assets comprising this system—pavement, bridges, culverts, embankments, and more—these reports highlight the importance of knowledge of asset condition and likely reliability. Such knowledge is essential to allocating maintenance resources, determining when asset renewal or replacement is prudent, and thereby ensuring the system’s continued high performance. Regarding the Interstate System, for example, a recommendation was made that “… Congress should direct U.S. DOT and FHWA to join with the states to assess the foundational integrity of the system’s pavements and bridges, and identify where full reconstruction is needed based on accepted life-cycle cost principles” (CIHS, p. 208). More generally, “…improved maintenance strategies are needed to cost-effectively enhance infrastructure performance over its full life cycle” (CIT, p. 21).


This knowledge of asset condition and service capability is inadequate for much of the highway system. People responsible for system asset management know that aging of materials, variations in weather and climatic conditions, normal usage and such unusual events as vehicle crashes and seismic shock, erosion of foundation soils, and other factors contribute to deterioration of asset condition and service capability, but they often cannot be certain about the rate of deterioration or the damage that has accumulated. Deterioration and damage, generally hidden from observation within and around massive, earth-bound structures, may be partially revealed by observation and testing through excavation or drilling into the structure, but such methods introduce new damage and can contribute to more rapid deterioration.


Continuing technology developments—for example, remote sensing (ground-penetrating radar, light detection and ranging (LIDAR), and acoustic emissions detection), embedded sensors, and others—seem promising, but high costs of data collection and processing may outweigh the benefits to be gained through cost and risk reduction and improved asset management generally. This tradeoff of data collection and processing costs versus asset management benefits to be gained is particularly troublesome with respect to the foundations of transportation system infrastructure, the condition and capabilities of materials beneath and adjacent to pavements, footings, walls, and embankments. Research is needed to identify, develop, and facilitate cost-effective use of methods for non-destructive in situ inference, direct measurement, and testing of foundational integrity, condition, and service capability of highway system assets, as well as to guide further research and development for advancing measurement, testing, and monitoring practice.

The objective of this project is to conduct a critical review of current and leading practices, research and application of emerging and new technologies, and opportunities for further advances to identify near-term opportunities for improving agencies’ capabilities to assess and monitor the foundational integrity, condition and service capability of highway system assets. The review should be useful to state transportation agencies, the Transportation Research Board, and others to inform decision-making for research program development, investment in technology adoption and data management, and strategic planning.
Proposers are asked to describe a detailed research plan to accomplish the project objective. Proposers are expected to describe research plans that can realistically be accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time and will provide opportunities for NCHRP to review and comment on research progress. Proposers must present their current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the issues and the soundness of their approach.
The research should include at least the following deliverable products and milestones:
1. A 60- to 90-minute kickoff web conference with the NCHRP project panel, within 4 weeks of the contract’s effective date, to discuss the Amplified Work Plan, important technical issues and research milestones, and review procedures for research products.
2. Interim Report 1 (IR1), delivered in electronic form only, presenting a review and assessment of current literature and observation of current and evolving practices of state transportation agencies regarding availability and uses of tools and technologies for in situ nondestructive assessment of foundational condition and service capability of transportation system assets, including but not limited to pavements, bridges, culverts, retaining walls, and overhead signs.
3. Interim Report 2 (IR2), delivered in electronic form only, presenting an assessment of the relative costs, accuracy, advantages, and limitations of currently used and emerging new tools and technologies for assessing the foundational condition and service capability of transportation assets.
4. Interim Report 3 (IR3), delivered in electronic form only, proposing high-priority research and information dissemination activities to advance practices for in situ nondestructive assessment of foundational condition and service capability of transportation assets. The activities should be described in terms of broad initiatives and a limited number of problem statements to address limitations of currently used and emerging new tools and technologies identified in IR2. These activities may include specifying (a) data content and format to improve the utility of asset condition and service capability data and data management for use in asset management systems and tools and (b) procedures for evaluating the balance between costs of data acquisition and benefits that improved data may yield for transportation asset performance. 
5. Draft and revised final documents comprising (a) a compilation of research results presented in IR1, IR2, and IR3; and (b) a review of the research team’s work and supporting materials of potential value to the report’s audience.
The two source documents are available for download from the following web links:
(CIHS) TRB Special Report 329: Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System: A Foundation for the Future at https://www.nap.edu/catalog/25334/renewing-the-national-commitment-to-the-interstate-highway-system-a-foundationfor-the-future
(CIT2019) Critical Issues in Transportation 2019 at http://www.trb.org/Main/Blurbs/178402.aspx

Status: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP. The panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work

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