Today the Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation held a hearing to review the research, development, and technology (RD&T) activities of the Department of Transportation (DOT). A diverse panel of witnesses weighed in on issues related to funding levels, prioritization of current research initiatives, and maximizing the efficiency of research activities.
"Advancements in materials and technology can help achieve long-term cost savings by reducing congestion, and improving the durability and lifespan of our transportation projects," said Subcommittee Chairman Ben Quayle (R-AZ). "It is therefore critical that we find a way to maintain a healthy, substantive research base behind our state and local transportation initiatives."
DOT annually supports more than $600 million in RD&T deployment activities focused on surface modes of transportation (rail, transit, motor carrier and highway), representing approximately one percent of federal expenditures on highways. Witnesses debated whether the long-term research needs of the nation are being adequately addressed. In November 2008, the Transportation Research Board produced a report making a number of recommendations for change to highway research programs, including improved engagement of the research community in the priority-setting process and subjecting research programs to merit-review. While supporting a competitive approach, several Members today also stressed the need for continuity of research investments, particularly within the University Transportation Center (UTC) program. DOT recently announced changes to the program that will impact FY11 funding for all 59 existing UTCs, as well as several other research programs.
The pending surface transportation reauthorization presents an opportunity to ensure transportation RD&T activities are aligned with national transportation priorities and to examine how these initiatives will further the states' ability to incorporate transformational research results into their transportation systems.