The national objectives of general welfare, economic growth and stability, and the security of the United States require the development of transportation policies and programs that contribute to providing fast, safe, efficient, and convenient transportation at the lowest cost consistent with those and other national objectives, including the efficient use and conservation of the resources of the United States.
DOT Strategic Plan 2006-2011
The overall aim of the Department’s RD&T is to anticipate and respond to changes in the complex transportation environment and to stimulate transportation innovations on behalf of the American public. The Department conducts RD &T to advance national transportation goals and to fulfill the specific mission requirements of its operating administrations. These investments are balanced between short-term applied RD &T and longer term research, and address critical gaps in areas not likely to be addressed by other Federal agencies or industry.
Although DOT’s operating administrations have wide-ranging duties related to operating or overseeing various transportation sectors, they share a commitment to fulfill national objectives, as embodied in the Department ’s mission and by the following six strategic and organizational goals:
Protecting segments of the population who remain at heightened risk—including teenage and older drivers, pickup drivers, and rural residents— will require targeted safety programs.
The Department’s strategic goals serve as the primary purposes for all of its diverse RD&T activities. Over the next several years, a number of external factors will affect the Department ’s ability to achieve these goals, some of which will create particular challenges for RD&T:
Demographic trends work against the Department’s ability to achieve its goals for safety, reduced congestion, and environmental stewardship. Most transportation-related fatalities and injuries occur on the Nation's roads and highways, and demographic trends make it increasingly difficult to reduce these fatalities and injuries. Within the next 25 years, the U.S. population is estimated to grow to 364 million, up from 282 million in 2000. Vehicle miles of travel (VMT) is projected to increase by approximately 60 percent from 2000 to 2030, leading to much higher numbers of highway crashes and fatalities. The increase in VMT will also lead to increased congestion —as passenger vehicles and trucks compete for space on our roads and highways—and to more emissions—even with vehicles that are increasingly fuel efficient. Travel by air for leisure and business purposes is also expected to increase, with resulting pollution from aircraft emissions and noise. Because of demographic pressures, trucks will be an increasing part of the traffic stream and will make a greater contribution to environmental problems.
Protecting segments of the population who remain at heightened risk—including teenage and older drivers, pickup drivers, and rural residents—will require targeted safety programs. Significant increases in the older population —the number of people between the ages of 65 and 84 will increase by 114 percent from 2000 to 2050 —will pose highway and motor vehicle safety challenges, whether older Americans are drivers or passengers. They also will pose highway congestion challenges, as retirees take to the road for recreation and travel. Finally, the steady influx of immigrants from around the world will add complexity to the traffic safety challenge, requiring the Department to be innovative in adapting safety strategies, materials, and approaches to reach these cultures.
Globalization reinforces the need for opening international transportation markets and for highly efficient intermodal connections where the U.S. and international transportation networks meet.
Globalization generally refers to the expansion of global linkages, the organization of social life on a global scale, and the growth of a global consciousness. People around the world are more connected to each other than ever before. Information and money flow more quickly than ever. International travel is more frequent and international communication is commonplace. Goods and services produced in one part of the world are increasingly available in all parts of the world. Although these links are not new, they are more pervasive than in the past.
In the United States, international trade represents a significant share of Gross Domestic Product. The World Fact Book, published by the Central Intelligence Agency, ranks the United States first in the world in imports and fourth in exports. While international trade is usually the primary meaning of globalization, personal international travel for business and leisure is a significant trend in the globalization of transportation.
As an external factor, globalization reinforces the need for opening international transportation markets and for highly efficient intermodal connections where the U.S. and international transportation networks meet. Where connections are inefficient, congestion develops. As traditional low-cost manufacturing countries increase their standards of living, manufacturing may switch to other parts of the world. These changing trade patterns often lead to congestion because of shifts in the use of U.S. ports and inland distribution systems. As a result, existing ports and intermodal facilities are bypassed, while underutilized ports and systems suddenly need significant expansion. Globalization demands flexibility in the transportation network, and flexibility demands investment in infrastructure. Pressures on transportation services and infrastructure from globalization will affect the Department ’s ability to reduce congestion and to achieve its global connectivity goal.
Cyclical and long-term changes in domestic and international economic activity have a strong impact on discretionary personal travel and shipment of goods, affecting demand for transportation infrastructure and services. Economic growth spurs new commercial and residential development, increases travel and trade, creates bottlenecks, and strains the capacity of the infrastructure. Conversely, economic stagnation reduces development, travel, and trade. Economic stagnation also shifts demand for transportation from higher cost to lower cost services.
Economic growth shifts the pattern of transportation in important ways. As incomes grow, people tend to buy more expensive goods, with a higher value per unit weight. The higher value of these goods means that the time they spend in transit is more costly to the shipper, so the shipper is more willing to pay extra for more expedited forms of transportation. As a result, air freight has been the fastest growing form of freight transportation over the past decade, with trucking close behind. Even in rail transportation, the most rapidly growing cargo has been high-value, expedited intermodal freight.
Truck traffic has been growing at a faster rate than overall vehicle traffic. Currently, trucks carry 75 percent of the Nation's commerce based on the value of the goods and more than two-thirds of these goods based on weight. An expanding economy with the resultant increase in truck traffic is an external factor that will challenge the goal of reducing traffic congestion.
The increase in high-value cargoes means that transportation costs are a smaller percentage of the overall delivered cost of the product. With transportation a smaller percentage of the total cost, shippers can afford to locate their production at a greater distance from the ultimate consumer to save on production costs. The result has been the growth of global outsourcing that has characterized the U.S. economy for the past quarter-century. This in turn has had tremendous effects on the transportation system, placing a greater burden on the international supply chain —marine carriers, ports, and intermodal rail—to deliver the goods. The nodal points in this supply chain have become increasingly congested.
Economic growth has also changed the nature of demand for passenger travel. As people ’s incomes have grown, they have traveled more, but their choice of mode has shifted increasingly to air travel. Air passenger travel is a service with a high income-elasticity of demand —people buy proportionately more of it as their incomes grow. Over the past 20 years, as real incomes have risen by roughly 100 percent, airline passenger-miles have increased by 146 percent, highway passenger travel has grown by 49 percent, and population has grown by 28 percent. Thus, the economy is an external factor that can significantly affect the Department ’s ability to achieve its goals for reduced congestion and global connectivity.
Current and emerging technologies can significantly help the Department to achieve its safety goals by adding additional layers of safety to avoid and mitigate crashes.
Current and emerging technologies are external factors that can significantly help the Department to achieve its safety goals. New technologies add additional layers of safety to avoid and mitigate crashes. In 2005, for example, new technology allowed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) safely to cut in half required vertical separations between aircraft, thereby increasing airspace capacity and reducing the risk of collision.
Technologies improve levels of highway safety. These include adaptive cruise control; brake assist; anti-lock braking systems; advanced airbags; backing up warning sensors; drowsy driver monitoring; warning devices for specific types of impending crashes (rear-end, lane/road departure, intersection); and systems that take control of the vehicle, such as electronic stability control, rollover prevention, and alcohol detection.
Additional occupant protection improvements, including advanced vehicle structures, safety belt/ignition-interlock systems, airbags, and other interior protection features, will reduce injuries and fatalities when crashes do occur. Immediately after impact, onboard communications could automatically notify rescue services of a crash, its location, and probable extent of injuries based on onboard sensors. The proliferation of traffic video surveillance in urban areas and mobile telephone communications could increase the chance of a 9-1-1 call, and possibly reduce response time by emergency personnel. Enhanced 9-1-1 technologies could also spur similar improvements in rural and suburban communities.
Technologies will play expanded roles in managing primary crash incidents and preventing avoidable secondary crashes. Devices that record onboard sensor data about crash circumstances and the behaviors of each involved vehicle help experts understand what happened and lead to vehicle, roadway design, and driver/operator training improvements. Other technologies that could help improve safety include computer simulators, biometrics, smart card driver licenses, and vehicle performance diagnostics.
Deployment of ITS and related technologies will reduce congestion and make travel on the highway system more reliable and predictable.
Current developments in licensing car and truck drivers may also improve our ability to reduce transportation-related fatalities and injuries. Licensing is undergoing scrutiny because of traffic safety and homeland security issues. Recognition that the driver's license not only allows one to drive but also provides a means for identifying an individual has led to debate on the role of the license and licensing bodies in the United States. Because of data exchange between State and Federal law enforcement agencies, information is becoming more accessible. This exchange may reduce the large numbers of suspended, unlicensed, and uninsured motorists who are disproportionately involved in crashes. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that 20 percent of all fatal crashes involved at least one driver who did not have a license.1 Of those with invalid licenses, 28 percent had received three or more suspensions or revocations before their crashes.2 Finally, because of demographic pressures, State Departments of Motor Vehicles will begin to reassess driver fitness over time and implement strategies that balance the need to maintain the mobility of the increasing older driver population while protecting public safety.3
In addition to improving safety, deployment of technologies—such as vehicle performance diagnostics; automated tolling; driver warnings about weather, road hazards, and bottlenecks; vehicle self-help measures; 5-1-1 traveler telephone information; and satellite-based systems, including wireless notifications to repair services —should reduce dangerous highway breakdowns and help relieve congestion. Widespread deployment of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and other related technologies will not only reduce congestion but also will make travel on the highway system more reliable and predictable.
Truck traffic has been growing at a faster rate than overall vehicle traffic. Currently, trucks carry 75 percent of the Nation's commerce based on the value of the goods and more than two-thirds of these goods based on weight. In the future, large trucks will likely be an increasing part of the traffic stream and will make a greater contribution to safety and environmental problems. An increase in truck traffic is an external factor that will challenge the Department’s safety goal of reducing large-truck-related fatalities and injuries and the environmental goal of reducing pollution and other adverse environmental effects from transportation.
Approximately 2.5 million truck drivers worked in the United States during 2004. However, demand for truck and bus drivers is growing and potential driver shortages in the motor carrier industry may tempt some companies to use a higher percentage of new or unskilled drivers to meet increasing demands. Lack of qualified drivers is an external factor that may adversely impact efforts to reduce large-truck-and bus-related crashes.
The high cost of intermodal infrastructure projects, localized opposition to new transportation development, and the stovepipe organizational structure of public transportation agencies are persistent obstacles to efficient intermodal connections in the United States.
Economic cycles are external factors that can increase pipeline safety risk. Economic growth normally brings an increase in commercial and residential development, which increases the probability of excavation or outside force damage to pipelines —a major factor in pipeline safety. On the other hand, economic and budget pressures can negatively influence the priorities of pipeline safety partners —the States—for implementing and enforcing pipeline safety measures. Financial pressures on the pipeline industry can diminish the resources available to support safe operating and maintenance practices.
Persistent obstacles to efficient intermodal connections in the United States, such as the high cost of intermodal infrastructure projects, localized opposition to new transportation development, and the stovepipe organizational structure of public transportation agencies, impede the ability to improve U.S. connection points within the United States and to the global transportation network. If this situation persists, the intermodal network will continue to experience erratic service reliability. Intermodal congestion will get worse, and capacity constraints will slow the ability of the transportation network to recover from any adverse events—such as Hurricane Katrina. Increased intermodal congestion would also increase air pollution from transportation sources. Unless addressed, obstacles to intermodalism could affect the Department ’s ability to achieve its reduced congestion and environmental stewardship goals.
Globalization and the resulting highly integrated transportation networks make it possible for infectious diseases to spread rapidly from one region of the world to another. The outbreak of an infectious disease in one part of the world may have serious economic and financial consequences for transportation firms operating in the region. While the spread of any infectious disease would cause a serious disruption in world commerce and travel, concern is now focused on an Avian Flu Pandemic. The outbreak of a highly infectious disease such as the Avian Flu could strain all segments of our economy and all modes of transportation.
The Department has plans in place to sustain its critical business operations through a combination of teleworking (to promote social distancing) and working on-site for those functions that cannot be performed via telework. DOT will work with the Departments of State and Homeland Security as well as with State and local governments for prioritized delivery of critical systems and services nationwide. Nevertheless, a flu pandemic is an external factor that could affect the Department ’s ability to achieve its strategic goals.
Natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, and floods demonstrate that the government needs to be ready to collaborate and cooperate in new and innovative ways to cope with such events effectively. Similarly, terrorist and criminal attacks on transportation systems can disrupt passenger transportation and the flow of cargo, particularly vital commodities such as food, medicines, and petroleum products. Major transportation fuel supply disruptions could occur in pumping or transporting crude oil, in refining crude oil, and in the distribution and delivery of fuels. Damage to large segments of roadways, tunnels, or bridges, as well as to waterways transport, rail freight movements, and transit services, are all plausible risks. Electricity supply disruptions, such as major blackouts or brownouts, could sharply affect the operation of certain transport sectors, particularly aviation, rail, and transit. Reliance on information technology makes the Department itself, and thus its ability to direct recovery efforts, more vulnerable when blackouts occur. The 2005 hurricane season dramatically revealed how enormous peak burdens were placed on the Nation ’s transportation system when millions of people attempted to vacate or relocate within a narrow window of time. Primarily the roadway system, but also mass transit, rail, air, and other modes, can be severely burdened by such events. Disruptions from natural disasters, terrorists, and criminal attacks will challenge the Department ’s ability to achieve its strategic goals.
Led by RITA, the Department’s RD&T planning process ensures that all RD&T activities are aligned with DOT goals and focused on the Nation’s most pressing transportation challenges. This process tracks multiyear RD&T priorities with annual budgets and performance goals. To assist RITA with RD&T planning, the Department recently established two internal bodies: the RD&T Planning Council and the RD&T Planning Team (see Chapter 1). The Department’s RD&T planning process has three elements: multiyear strategic planning, annual program planning, and budget and performance planning:
Multiyear RD&T Planning. The RD&T Planning Council and RD&T Planning Team define long-term, multiyear RD&T strategies and emerging research priorities. These strategies and priorities guide RD&T investments and provide the framework for the Department’s Transportation Research, Development and Technology Strategic Plan.
Annual Program Planning. Considering both Departmental and operating administration priorities, the Planning Council and Planning Team develop annual RD&T priorities for each upcoming fiscal year. Priorities are included in the Secretary’s budget guidance to the operating administrations and in the annual RD&T funding report submitted to Congress.
Budget and Performance Planning. Assisted by RITA, the Planning Council and Planning Team support RD&T budgeting and program assessment through annual reviews of modal RD&T programs and budget submissions.
The RD&T Planning Council and RD&T Planning Team collaborate with other DOT-wide bodies throughout all phases of this process, including DOT ’s ITS Management Council, Human Factors Coordinating Committee, Center for Climate Change and Environmental Forecasting, and Hydrogen Working Group.
As indicated above, a key role for the RD&T Planning Council is to identify the critical RD&T strategies that will enable the Department to achieve its strategic goals. These overarching strategies serve as the primary research topics for the Department ’s diverse RD&T programs and activities. The Department’s RD&T strategies for the next five years are:
To support DOT goals and RD&T strategies, the RD&T Planning Council has also identified six emerging research priority areas to guide the Department ’s RD&T investments. These priorities represent areas where the Department would make greater investments over the next five years and beyond should it have greater flexibility in RD&T program funding. In addition, these six research areas meet the following criteria: (1) they support identified Departmental goals and priorities; (2) they offer the greatest potential return on investment; and (3) they are areas where Federal RD&T is most appropriate and not likely to be duplicated by other efforts. The Department ’s emerging research priorities are:
Table 2-1 shows the relationship among the Department’s strategic and organizational goals, RD&T strategies, and emerging research priorities.
In addition to supporting broad DOT goals, RD&T strategies, and emerging research priorities, the Department’s operating administrations conduct RD&T to advance modal priorities based on their mission requirements, interactions with stakeholders, and understanding of transportation challenges, technologies, and operations. Appendix D provides the links to the operating administrations’ RD&T advisory committees, stakeholder activities, and plans. The following DOT administrations and offices have missions that involve a supporting program of RD&T:
FAA’s overall mission is to provide safe and efficient aviation and commercial space transportation systems. Key elements are the regulation of civil aviation and commercial space transportation to promote safety and the safe and efficient use of airports and airspace by civil and military users. This broad mission requires an extensive RD&T program carried out in cooperation with industry and other Federal agencies. Components of this program include research in space and air traffic system technology, aviation weather products, airport technology, aircraft safety, commercial space transportation safety, human factors, and mitigation of aircraft emissions and noise.
FHWA’s mission is to enhance mobility through innovation, leadership, and public service. One of the agency’s key roles is to be an innovator for a better future. Toward this end, FHWA provides leadership, expertise, and resources to continually improve the quality of the highway system and its intermodal connections. Cooperating with States and other partners, the agency coordinates Federal highway programs and conducts supporting research in highway safety, pavement and structures, congestion relief, planning, and the environment. Among the agency’s major highway programs are the Federal-Aid Highway Program, which provides financial assistance to States to construct and improve the National Highway System, urban and rural roads, and bridges, and the Federal Lands Highway Program, which provides access to and within national forests, national parks, Indian reservations, and other public lands.
FMCSA has as its mission the reduction in the number and severity of commercial motor vehicle crashes. The agency’s research and technology (R&T) program supports this mission through the discovery, application, and dissemination of new knowledge, and the assessment, development, and promotion of new technologies. FMCSA R&T addresses the safety performance of drivers, carriers, and vehicles, and also includes crosscutting projects relating to crash problem assessment and program support.
FRA promulgates and enforces railroad safety regulations; administers financial assistance programs to railroads, including Amtrak; conducts research in support of improved railroad safety, operational efficiency, asset utilization, and capacity; fosters the development of high-speed-rail passenger service; and consolidates government support of rail transportation activities. FRA RD&T covers railroad system issues (safety, security, environment); human factors; rolling stock and components; track and structures; track/train interaction; train control; grade crossings; hazardous materials; train occupant protection; and research and development facilities and equipment.
The mission of FTA is to ensure personal mobility and community vitality by supporting high-quality public transportation. FTA accomplishes its mission through leadership, financial resources, and technical assistance. Research is focused on analyzing potential solutions to transit challenges, developing research projects to evaluate and test best practices and technologies, and working with the transit industry to implement those research solutions that are found to have significant return on investment. Conducted in partnership with the broader transit community, FTA research focuses on increasing transit ridership, improving safety and emergency preparedness, improving capital and operating efficiencies, and protecting the environment and promoting energy independence.
MARAD is responsible for developing and maintaining a U.S. merchant marine capable of moving the Nation’s waterborne commerce and serving as a military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency. MARAD has programs to improve the efficiency and productivity of the U.S. maritime industry, including ports and intermodal transportation systems. While MARAD currently has no directly funded RD&T, the agency actively facilitates several industry-wide cooperative programs to advance innovations in marine operations. In addition, MARAD works with other Federal agencies, stakeholders, and academic researchers to highlight potential maritime solutions for transportation system problems.
NHTSA’s mission is to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes through education, research, safety standards, and enforcement activities. In the behavioral area, NHTSA focuses on the delivery of data-driven programs and countermeasures aimed at increasing occupant protection use, reducing alcohol-related fatalities, reducing motorcycle fatalities, promoting effective speed management, prolonging older driver mobility as long as medically practicable, promoting parental roles in effective driver education curricula, and maintaining the integrity of driver licensing processes. With respect to vehicle safety, in addition to NHTSA’s traditional vehicle research, rulemaking, enforcement, and safety defect investigations, the agency assesses the lifesaving benefits of emerging technologies as they enter the vehicle fleet. NHTSA conducts a supporting program of research in several critical areas. These include collecting and analyzing crash data trends, research on the safety impact of innovative technologies, injury causation and mitigation countermeasures, integrated safety from crash prevention to severity reduction, and driver behavioral safety.
OST has responsibility for formulating national transportation policies that affect various modes and help ensure achievement of Department-wide goals. OST research supports the development, evaluation, and improvement of these policies and comprises work in economic and strategic analysis; safety, energy, and environment; freight and logistics; navigation and spectrum policy; aviation and international policy; and security. Key priorities include improving the economic efficiency of the operation of, and investments in, the transportation system; encouraging diffusion of best practices in transportation safety; improving the sustainability of transportation through market-based solutions and new technologies that improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse gases and air pollutant emissions; illuminating the economic relationship of freight investments to the national economy and developing financial strategies to accelerate economic investment in freight capacity; and encouraging the development of civilian Global Positioning System and other positioning, navigation, and timing applications.
PHMSA’s mission is to ensure the safe and secure transportation of hazardous materials by all modes. The agency has two major safety offices: the Office of Pipeline Safety, which ensures the safe, reliable, and environmentally sound operation of pipeline transportation, and the Office of Hazardous Materials Safety, which identifies, evaluates, and mitigates risks to the safe and secure transportation of hazardous materials. PHMSA RD&T includes work in mission-critical areas, including pipeline operations, control, and monitoring; pipeline damage prevention; improved pipeline materials; hazardous materials packaging and shipping, including packaging design; hazmat emergency response, hazard identification, risk assessment, and risk management; hazmat consequence modeling; and hazardous materials transportation security.
RITA’s mission is to enable, facilitate, and expedite innovation in the transportation system to advance the transportation and economic objectives of the United States. RITA accomplishes the RD&T components of this mission by leading crossmodal research; planning, reviewing, and coordinating RD&T Department-wide; leading the RD&T Planning Council and Planning Team; and managing the Department’s University Transportation Centers Program. In addition, RITA’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) plays a key role in gathering and improving the quality of the aviation, freight, and passenger flow data upon which much of the Department’s research relies.
Chapters 3 through 8 discuss operating administrations’ RD&T programs in relation to DOT goals, RD&T strategies, and emerging research priorities.
1 Unlicensed to Kill: The Sequel. AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Washington, DC. January 2003. http://www.aaafoundation.org/pdf/UnlicensedToKill2.pdf
3 Strategies for Medical Advisory Boards and Licensing Review. NHTSA. Washington, DC. July 2005. http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/injury/research/MedicalAdvisory/