RoadWorks: What to Research Next Year

Assuming that new surface transportation legislation will eventually arrive, the Federal Highway Administration has moved to develop a planning and environment research program for FY 2010.
You now have the chance to deliver your input to FHWA before the program is finalized.

The now obsolete SAFETEA-LU included the Surface Transportation Environment and Planning Cooperative Research Program (STEP), and FHWA figures that resources for a new STEP, or something very much like it that continues to research issues related to planning, environment, and realty, are likely to be included in whatever replaces it. After all, says FHWA, similar programs were in surface transportation legislation before SAFETEA-LU.

Anticipating a FY 2010 STEP program, FHWA is asking for ideas. You can go to a website ( before Dec. 3 to convey your reactions and thoughts to the program’s administrators. “Stakeholder feedback from the STEP Web site provides useful research ideas and helps to prevent redundant areas of research, saving valuable research funds,” according to the FHWA.

The general objective of STEP is to improve understanding of the complex relationship between surface transportation, planning, and the environment. Over the past three years, an average of approximately $13 million was spent on such work and FHWA is assuming a similar amount will be made available in new legislation.

FHWA says it expects to seek partnerships that can leverage this limited (their description of the amount) research funding in STEP with other stakeholders and partners in order to increase the total amount of resources available. FHWA anticipates FY 2010 research that will:

  • Conduct research to develop climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies
  • Improve state of the practice regarding livability and the impact of transportation on the environment.
  • Develop and/or support the implementation of models and tools for
    evaluating transportation measures and develop indicators of economic,
    social, and environmental performance of transportation systems.
  • Develop and deploy research to address congestion reduction efforts.
  • Develop transportation safety planning strategies for surface transportation systems and improvements.
  • Improve planning, operation, and management of surface transportation
    systems and rights of way.
  • Enhance knowledge of strategies to improve transportation in rural areas and small communities.
  • Strengthen and advance State/local and tribal capabilities regarding surface transportation and the environment.
  • Improve transportation decision making and coordination across borders.
  • Conduct research to promote environmental streamlining/stewardship.
  • Disseminate research results and advances in state of the practice through peer exchanges, workshops, conferences, etc.

Look Ma, No Driver.
Here’s a way to get four times the capacity for a roadway, higher average speeds for the vehicles using it and increased safety and reduced energy costs.

Go driverless. In a new book, O’Toole presents a simple either or choice. On the one hand are “user-fee-funded highways … used by most Americans almost every day” or a “high-speed rail … regularly used by only a fraction of Americans, but the cost would be born by everyone.” It’s a no-brainer, he says.

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The author makes a recommendation which, he states, would take the politics out of the transportation debate. He says, “the best thing Congress can do is to turn over all surface transportation funding and decision making to the states.”

O’Toole also recommends that the government should take three steps:

  • Base the distribution of federal funds on state and local user fees
  • Insist that programs aimed at saving energy and reducing environmental effects of transportation be cost efficient.
  • Create a citizen enforcement process to ensure that federal funds are cost-efficiently spent.
Gridlock: Why we’re stuck in traffic and what to do about it, from the Cato Institute, this is one of the technological solutions to gridlock put forward by author Randal O’Toole. His more basic arguments are that we should reduce congestion (five times worse than it was 25 years ago according to the book) by improving transportation methods to increase everyone’s mobility while they pay for the system themselves, whether they use cars, buses, planes or trains.

Lower-Carbon Specs for California Concrete
The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is developing specifications that will reduce the carbon footprint of concrete.

Working with industry, Caltrans’ Materials Engineering and Testing Services is creating specs that provide for the replacement of a certain amount of cement in concrete with supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) and pure limestone. Reducing the amount of cement by replacing it with SCMs – which are recycled materials – will directly reduce the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the making of cement, says Caltrans.

The new specification also allow for the use of recycled concrete aggregate as a substitute for conventional aggregate in minor concrete applications, says Caltrans. Recycled aggregate reduces waste and make concrete a more sustainable product with respect to mining and the environment, says the department.

According to the Portland Cement Association SCMs can also be used in concrete to enhance freeze-thaw durability, improve corrosion and resistance, and control ASR and sulfate attack. SCMs can also improve the workability of fresh concrete and increase the ultimate strength capacity and durability of hardened concrete.

Dandelion Rubber
As a fungus attacks rubber tree plantations worldwide, scientists searching for alternative sources have turned to the humble dandelion.

That thick, sticky white stuff that seeps from dandelion stems when they are snapped is natural latex. The problem is once it seeps it polymerizes immediately. But scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME in Aachen, Germany, have found a way to overcome that problem. “We have identified the enzyme responsible for the rapid polymerization and have switched it off,” said Dr. Dirk Prüfer, Head of Department at the IME. “If the plant is cut, the latex flows out instead of being polymerized. We obtain four to five times the amount we would normally. If the plants were to be cultivated on a large scale, every hectare [2.5 acres] would produce 500 to 1,000 kilograms [1,100 – 2,200 pounds] of latex per growing season.”

Don’t forget, Germany, Russia and America produced rubber from this plant during the Second World War.

Industry Optimism in Germany
germanyIn what be an indicator of a recovery in construction industries internationally, the world’s biggest contruction equipment trade show is claiming “an excellent levels of bookings.” So much so that bauma is getting even bigger.

The show (actually the 29th bauma), in Munich, Germany, in April next year, is working on additional, temporary halls that will bring the total exhibition space for the fair to more than five million square feet. The new space will be for Construction Equipment and Tools and Formworks and Scaffolding displays.

“This development shows that in a tough economic climate bauma remains a milestone in the trade fair calendar of the sector and that this sector is determined to demonstrate its innovative capabilities,” said Eugen Egetenmeir, a member of the management board of Messe München, the show’s organizer.

The show’s official title gives you an idea of what will be on display. It is the International Trade Fair for ConstructionMachinery, Building Material Machines, Mining Machines, Construction Vehicles and Construction Equipment. 

If you would like to be in Bavaria in the springtime (April 19-25) at this
huge show, check out their website at