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Industry News / Infrastructure

August 22, 2019

Guest Blog Post: AASHTO’s Tymon on the Public Rewards of Transportation Research Funding

AASHTO Executive Director Jim Tymon

By Jim Tymon

Imagine getting a return of $46 for every $1 invested; or better yet, how about reducing the cost of an everyday product by 90 percent, even while boosting the overall performance and longevity of that very same product.

That isn’t wishful thinking. In fact, it is reality in the transportation industry – and the direct result of federal research and development funding.

Brian Ness, director of the Idaho Transportation Department and chair of the Special Committee on Research and Innovation for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, highlighted several concrete examples of R&D-driven savings during recent testimony on Capitol Hill.

Where his own department is concerned, Ness noted that ITD developed a new concrete mix called High Early Strength Concrete to replace Ultra-High Performance Concrete for use in accelerated bridge construction to link bridge girders. The savings proved immense – dropping the cost per cubic yard of specialized concrete from between $10,000 and $15,000 per cubic yard to around $800 per cubic yard, or 90 percent, while maintaining if not improving the material’s performance.

You can imagine what such savings mean to a department with an annual budget of $800 million that must maintain 12,200 lane miles of roads, more than 1,800 bridges, roughly 1,630 miles of railroad track, 126 public-use airports, and the Port of Lewiston.

“In an era of tight funding for state governments across the country, state DOTs rely heavily on research to help solve their most challenging problems,” Ness emphasized. “It has been proven time and again that one dollar of research investment today will pay many times that in ongoing future benefits.”

Other states are experiencing similar benefits, he added. Take Indiana, for one: In 2017, out of the $3.9 million spent on transportation-related research projects, just five of them ended up saving the state nearly $190 million; a savings of $46 dollars for every $1 spent on research.

Indeed, a substantial return on investment from smarter, better, and longer-lasting transportation can easily be documented with factors such as more durable infrastructure and improved operations. Additional benefits extend far beyond those that are easily quantified, including lives saved, an environmentally responsible transportation system, and improved quality of life for our citizens whose daily lives depend on the efficient movement of people and goods.

However, by any measure – whether by comparing industrial sectors or via country-to-country matchups – our nation invests only very modest resources in transportation research and innovation.

Demands on transportation are growing as public spending on transportation research is declining. At the same time, public officials are often discouraged from taking risks. So how do we encourage innovation in transportation agencies? By investing in research and development.

ITD’s Ness noted that the end result of such research projects allow state DOTs to stretch their transportation dollars farther, so they can buy more steel, more asphalt, and more concrete. “Research investments create long-term improvements taxpayers can actually see and benefit from,” he emphasized.

It’s also another avenue whereby state DOTs provide an economic benefit to the nation; saving money, often numbered in the millions of dollars, while delivering more mobility options to keep freight flowing and people moving to their destinations.

Jim Tymon is the executive director of the American  Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

All comments to blog posts will be moderated by ACEC staff.


August 22, 2019



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