Washington tries to curb study habit

News July 26, 2001
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Perhaps the people in Washington, D


Perhaps the people in Washington, D.C., need to do some re-searching.


In the midst of the House and Senate working on transportation spending bills for fiscal year 2002, funding for research and development activities were below authorized levels. The move has industry leaders asking those on Capitol Hill to take another look inside the money vault.


"We're very disappointed at the level of research funding for pavements in general and asphalt specifically," Mike Acott, president of the National Asphalt Pavement Association, told ROADS&BRIDGES. "We feel very strongly that there should be an increase in the amount of dollars available for research."


According to the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO), federal funding for transportation research activities in the past has fallen short of levels documented in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), and much of the money has been earmarked by Congress for specific activities. As a result, state DOTs have reached into their own pockets to replace the federal shortfall for such programs as Long Term Pavement Preservation Superpave research.


"I think in some quarters there's a perception that Superpave was researched and finished and there's no longer any research necessary," claimed Acott. "That couldn't be any further from the truth. There are some very significant gaps in Superpave technology that need to be filled, and there also are requirements to keep LTPP moving as well."


Associations like NAPA and AASHTO are trying to rake in more dollars for research. In May, the AASHTO Board of Directors approved a resolution supporting a research funding scenario included in the FY2002 budget proposal submitted by the Bush Administration. The proposal implements the TEA-21 provisions that would provide a share of revenue aligned budget authority (RABA) to research and also full obligation authority for research.


The House and Senate transportation funding bills fund research at $448 million--the amount proposed by the administration is $503.7 million. Both bills also have rejected the administration's proposal to provide full obligation authority for research. The House version does follow TEA-21 provisions regarding additional RABA funding for research, but sets an obligation total lower than what is made available. The Senate version does not provide any RABA funding for research.


"Research isn't something you turn on and off, you have to have a continuous commitment to it," said Acott. "People are always critical that research never finds its way into practice. I think Superpave research has been very successful, which means the money committed to research is going to be of direct benefit to the highway user."


The two bills also include unprecedented earmarking for specific projects, accounting for nearly all of the discretionary funding available to highways, transit and aviation. Under normal procedures the money would be allocated by the U.S. Department of Transportation based on an application and review process.


"There is a lot of earmarking of research funds by different universities and maybe there is somewhat a perception that these other groups are fulfilling the federal role in transportation research. It's fine for funding specific projects, but they could put a national program together that has very broad goals," said Acott.


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