Kirk Landers: Strategic thinking

Strategic thinking

by Kirk Landers

One of the most positive forces taking shape in the road industry is the second Strategic Highway Research Program, or SHRP 2, which is charged with reducing accidents, renewing infrastructure more efficiently, improving highway capacity, and helping us achieve more reliable travel times.

These are lofty goals, indeed.

Unlike the higher-profile debates about transportation funding, this research is taking place out of the public spotlight and is designed to create a broader range of solutions than we have now, mostly by incorporating information and technology in new ways.

The $150 million, seven-year program was created in the last federal transportation act, and is being administered by the National Research Council. The first Strategic Highway Research Program, undertaken in the 1980s and 1990s, revolutionized road building in the United States, producing, among other things, Superpave asphalt.

It has taken about a year to get the program organized, but last year numerous studies were launched and more will be coming on-stream as this year.

According to the SHRP 2 annual report issued last month, 2007 saw a great deal of progress in the program with 26 active research projects and more due to start up this year. (The detailed report is available at

In the safety research area, the program’s goal is to develop a new understanding of all the factors in road crashes. So, one subject of the new research is the study of thousands of drivers who are being monitored for two years by means of sensors and video recording systems that record everything from traveling speeds to braking, steering, and behaviors such as cell phone use. It will also measure their reactions to roadways, traffic and environmental conditions.

The program’s roadway renewal research seeks to find ways to reduce the amount of time motorists are delayed by highway construction. It will look for faster, non-destructive testing methods, high-speed inspections, and construction technologies that can reduce construction time, such as prefabricated, modular and roll-in components.

For reliable travel times, SHRP 2 will look at ways to make travel on our roads more predictable by improving highway operations. The program will develop metrics to help agencies directly compare results from improvements in highway operations with the benefits of new construction. One particular focal point is dealing with non-recurring congestion, such as traffic accidents.

And SHRP 2 is looking for ways to enhance congestion mitigation by reducing the amount of time it takes to bring new highway capacity on line. The program is looking for a system that can be used anywhere to help a full cross section of stakeholders reach road planning decisions collaboratively, reducing community opposition and delay.

It’s important that you are aware of this program — you may have a chance to attend one of its symposia or may be asked to participate in one of the many research projects that are taking place within the program. If the opportunity to do either arises, take advantage of it. If this program succeeds in accomplishing its goals, it will dramatically change the way we design, build, and manage road infrastructure. BR