Research Focus Areas
Economic Analysis of Investments and Impacts. Factors of regional and national interest include: the impacts of petroleum cost on infrastructure material and construction costs; the impacts of fuel cost on living patterns and transportation demand (which is also addressed in issues 12 and 14); the impact of accommodating larger, heavier vehicles on transportation facilities (e.g., clearances, load capacities, and traffic capacities); and the assessment of retrofit and upgrading costs versus replacement costs for infrastructure improvements based on contemporary and advanced materials. An important regional issue is the impact of seasonal load restrictions and extreme weather conditions on the mobility of people and goods.
Effective Safety Management. Research is needed to identify effective uses of crash and safety data, especially in the development of safety management plans. Some of the expected outcomes of safety-management research include: improvements to crash reporting systems and better utilization of crash data, the development of unique regional variables to be used in safety analysis, and improvements in communication and interaction among different levels of transportation agencies (federal, state, and local). The under reporting of crashes on reservation roads is an important issue that must be addressed before safety options can be fully evaluated.
Environmental Impacts of Infrastructure. Awareness of the impacts that transportation facilities have on the environment leads to environmentally sound decisions in planning, designing, and maintaining the transportation infrastructure. Topics with environmental relevance include: the use of recycled materials, the use of alternative fuels (feasibility, benefits, and highway finance implications), the effects of alternative transportation modes for commuting, and the effects and mitigation of adverse consequences of air pollution, deicers, and other chemicals on the environment and wildlife habitat.
Freight Security. A national freight planning objective is to provide security while promoting mobility and global connectivity. Preferred security strategies include those which blend with and utilize existing supply-chain and transportation technologies. Research projects should address ways of integrating security, supply-chain, and transportation concepts through the use of advanced technologies and strategic partnerships.
Hazardous Materials. Substantial quantities of hazardous materials (hazmat) are transported within Region 8. Improved commodity flow data and risk assessment models are needed to reflect safety and security risks. Research priorities include: (1) the incorporation of high-risk rural road segments, railroad grade crossings, and work zones into hazmat routing and risk assessment models, (2) improving the supply-chain security of packaged hazmat and dangerous goods through the use of advanced technologies, and (3) the logistics of emergency response.
Heavy Vehicles and Commercial Trucks. Research into large truck safety issues is needed, especially ways of assessing motor-carrier safety performance data—e.g., evaluating the effectiveness of CVISN partial deployment in terms of its economic and safety impacts—and hazardous material incident planning and response. Researchers are encouraged to access unprecedented details about the events surrounding truck crashes in the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (LTCCS). The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has posted online the LTCCS database, which consists of a nationally representative sample of 967 large-truck fatal and injury crashes with up to 1,000 elements in each crash. These data elements—which are not available elsewhere—will allow researchers across the universities in the MPC to analyze the total spectrum of knowledge about truck crash factors. FMCSA believes that analysis from many sources is the best path for realizing the full potential of the LTCCS.
High-Risk Rural Roads. Rural roads continue to experience a disproportionate number of crashes, resulting in more fatalities and injuries than their urban counterparts. Fatalities on rural roads occur at a rate two-and-a half times greater than on all other routes. Research proposals should address the unique characteristics which contribute to increased risks at particular locations, including: highway geometry, use of alcohol and other substances that impair drivers, monotonous driving conditions, and high crash rates on Indian reservation roads.
Human Factors. Because rural crashes often involve single-vehicle, run-off-the-road crashes, there is a need to examine unique human factors corresponding to the characteristics of the Mountain-Plains Region. These critical factors include: driver behavior; driver attitudes to speed, alcohol, and seat belt use; and other regional and cultural factors. These issues are equally applicable to drivers of commercial and passenger vehicles.
Improved Infrastructure Design. Cost-effective infrastructure design is critically important in the region. However, improvements in pavement analysis methods are needed for improved highway design. These improvements depend, in part, upon the effective implementation of the new mechanistic pavement design guidelines. Research is needed to: (1) refine pavement damage estimates based on the new damage models presented in the mechanistic design guide, (2) estimate inputs and identify prototype procedures that can be used by state transportation departments in the region, and (3) quantify the effects of traffic and environmental factors on alternative designs.
Improved Pricing Strategies. Strategies that reveal perspectives on rural infrastructure financing are important to the region. These strategies must consider the valuation of transportation services by users. Specifically, research is needed regarding the pricing and valuation of freight and personal mobility in small-to-medium sized communities and rural areas.
Infrastructure Financing. Many innovative financing ideas have been applied in urban regions of the United States, such as toll lanes, mixed facilities, value pricing, and public-private partnerships. MPC research should capitalize on lessons learned from these deployments regarding the shortcomings of prototype ITS technologies and public responses. Specifically, research is needed to assess managed lane rental opportunities in small-to-medium urban centers such as the Salt Lake City region, which now boasts the longest stretch of continuous HOV lanes in the United States. Other potential research topics include: road pricing mechanisms associated with tourist centers such as national parks, the effects of alternative fuels on state and local revenues, and the challenges of financing passenger railroad infrastructure.
Infrastructure Longevity. The lifespan of current and future transportation infrastructure can be increased significantly by implementing effective and novel design and maintenance techniques including: structural health monitoring of transportation infrastructure facilities, determining the capacity of in-place infrastructure versus its design capacity, developing and implementing retrofit techniques, developing and applying advanced technologies and innovative materials, utilizing key databases such as the LTPP pavement data to better understand deterioration factors and rates, and analyzing scour in soil types specific to the region.
Integrated Asset Management Systems. The development of integrated GIS and automated data collection systems are essential to the monitoring of infrastructure condition and performance in Region 8, which has vast inventories of signs, pavement markings, culverts, fences, bridges, other roadway structures, sensors, and other assets. Potential research topics include: uses of flexible and cost-effective technologies such as in-motion sensing and RFID for infrastructure monitoring, and methods of analyzing data generated from Asset Management Systems. Research is needed to identify methods to evaluate the performance of transportation assets; develop cost-effective maintenance and rehabilitation strategies; assess the effectiveness of various treatments; and analyze the adaptation of asset management strategies to ITS infrastructure management. These strategies may include technologies and assets such as communications infrastructure, cameras, and Roadway Weather Information Systems.
Low-Cost Safety Improvements. Technology transfer projects are needed to help disseminate available information regarding successful low-cost safety improvements to local and county transportation agencies in the region. Research is needed to identify improvements in roadway inventory data and road safety audit procedures which are necessary to identify cost-effective safety improvements.
Multimodal Policy and Investment Assessment. Research is needed to improve benefit-cost analysis by adequately addressing parameters such as service cost, reliability, environmental impacts, opportunity costs, and the life-cycle costs of transportation network investments. Other issues include: (1) the effects of rising energy costs on transportation demand, travel choices, and goods movements; (2) the impacts of regional truck size and weight regulations and other multi-jurisdictional truck corridor initiatives; (3) modal interactions and freight planning in capacity-constrained corridors; and (4) the effects of security measures on mobility at borders, airports, ports, and trade zones.
Rural Transportation Operations. Changes in normal traffic operations that stem from unusual conditions may create or worsen safety problems. Research is needed to better understand: (1) adverse weather and its impacts on traveler safety, including winter weather maintenance decisions, traveler information, and road closures; (2) impacts of incidents and special events, including corresponding response plans; (3) maintenance issues (including snow removal); (4) emergency response to accidents and hazardous material incidents; and (5) communications infrastructure support.
Safety of Unpaved Roads. Most local agencies in the Mountain-Plains Region manage hundreds of miles of gravel roads. For some agencies, the percentage of gravel roads approaches 95 percent of their total networks. Research into the causes of crashes on unpaved roads will help local governments improve the safety of their networks.
Traffic Operations and Management. With increasingly scarce transportation resources and increasing demand on the system, strategic management of short-term traffic issues and longer-term traffic strategies requires a complex of information and management tools. Topics on the forefront include: urban-rural and regional traffic forecasting, driver time value and travel behavior, user pricing incentives, real-time modeling and dynamic traffic assignment, and ITS applications such as intelligent ramp metering, innovative lane utilization, HOV lanes, load restrictions, and traffic adaptive signal control systems.
Work Zone Safety. Research is needed to: (1) develop methods of accurately analyzing the traffic operational and safety impacts of work zones, (2) identify strategies to reduce traffic delay and improve safety, and (3) demonstrate the use of analysis tools and traffic simulation models.