With its four stated concentrations being safety, renewal, reliability and capacity, the Transportation Research Board is moving forward with the Congressionally approved Strategic Highway Research Program II, but funding for the project beyond the first of four years remains to be determined.
SHRP II Deputy Director Ann Brach and Interim Director Neil Hawks outlined the status of the research effort at a Washington meeting of transportation advocates on Feb. 23.
SHRP II was included in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, which President George W. Bush signed into law in August 2005. It was initially planned to be funded at $450 million over six years. During negotiations to approve the $286.5 billion SAFETEA-LU, it was scaled back to $205 million over four years. Planning for SHRP II started in 1999.
AASHTO urged Congress to place SHRP II in the core programs of SAFETEA-LU. Legislatures instead placed SHRP II in the research title of the act and approved a piecemeal funding approach. Brach said last week that so far, $36 million was approved for fiscal year 2006.
She noted that SHRP II had to be scaled back from its original funding goal and the original plans were streamlined to eliminate the study of previously explored areas, duplicative concentrations and unnecessary projects.
Jack Basso, AASHTO director of management and business development, said the association is working with Congress to ensure a long-term funding stream for SHRP II and to restore its annual funding level to the $51 million authorized by Congress.
The first SHRP research effort lasted from 1987-1994 and was contained in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act. It resulted in groundbreaking advances in materials, engineering, costs and operations. SHRP II, Branch and Hawks said, broadens strategic highway research.
The next step in implementing the new program is the formation of technical advisory committees this spring. By mid-May, the oversight committee is expected to approve the one-year plan and by July the expert task groups will prepare requests for proposals. The oversight committee will be made up of 15 members and the four technical advisory committees will each have 15 members. There will be between 50 and 70 expert task groups, Hawks said, with each group made up of between five and seven members.
Once SHRP II gets underway, TRB, along with AASHTO and the U.S. Department of Transportation, will be focusing on the following areas:
• Safety – Prevent or reduce the severity of highway crashes by understanding driver behavior;
• Renewal – Address the aging infrastructure through rapid design and construction methods that cause minimal disruption and produced long-lived facilities;
• Reliability – Reduce congestion through incident reduction, management, response and mitigation; and
• Capacity – Integrate mobility, economic, environmental and community needs in the planning and designing of new transportation capacity.
The intent of SHRP II is to capitalize on the development of research and technology to improve the safety and reliability of the nation’s highway system.