Exploring the Transportation Pooled Fund Program—Advancing Research and Innovation Through Collaboration
|The Transportation Pooled Fund Program enables State departments of transportation, and other public and private entities, to combine resources to address transportation-related challenges. By combining efforts and resources on high-priority highway research topics such as high friction surface pavement treatments, steel bridge maintenance, and bicyclist and pedestrian safety, our Nation’s transportation agencies can advance solutions that stimulate economic growth, advance equity, and improve safety.|
We are in an unprecedented time of opportunity and need in transportation. Following the enactment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law in November 2021, identifying proven research, innovation, and new technologies to meet the pressing needs of the transportation sector has become even more important. Transportation stakeholders face a multitude of issues from safety concerns to bridge degradation. Many of these issues are not unique to one area or agency. The Transportation Pooled Fund (TPF) Program provides an opportunity for stakeholders to address common concerns by collaborating to leverage resources, funding, and expertise to study projects of common interest.
The research and innovation conducted through the TPF Program not only helps address stakeholders’ shared transportation problems, but also advances the state of practice. One of the Federal Highway Administration’s strategic goals is to “lead in the development and deployment of innovative practices and technologies to improve the safety and performance of the Nation’s transportation system.” This goal is further described in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s innovation principles, including allowing for experimentation and failure, providing opportunities to collaborate, and being flexible and adaptable as technology changes. FHWA is helping to accelerate this goal and the innovation principles through its investment and facilitation of the TPF Program. Many TPF studies have produced research, new innovations, or best practices that were later adopted and institutionalized around the world. The TPF Program has demonstrated that it helps to save time and resources, increases knowledge transfer, and produces proven research and innovations that improve the state of the practice.
What is the TPF Program?
The TPF Program is a collaborative program that has existed for more than 45 years. It creates an opportunity for partners to pool their funds, subject matter expertise, and resources to conduct high priority research to meet a wide variety of shared transportation problems. Being able to pool funds allows participants to get more out of the study than if they conducted the study on their own. By pooling funds and expertise, participants develop innovative solutions with a smaller investment while also extending the reach and impact of their research. Projects that previously could have been cost prohibitive become much more achievable through participation in the TPF Program. By offering hundreds of active pooled fund studies, the TPF Program assists partners in finding and funding projects applicable to their agency’s needs.
Since 2003, the TPF Program has processed more than $615 million in collaborative funding. As of February 2022, there were over 167 active projects and 10 open solicitations. One hundred fourteen of those active projects were led by State departments of transportation (DOTs) and 53 were led by FHWA, and span a wide array of topic areas. The diverse topics allow transportation partners to remain nimble and focus on solving their specific transportation issues while stretching their funds to learn about a wide array of topic areas.
TPF Program by the Numbers
|An overview of the TPF Program funding and current projects.|
|This graphic demonstrates the wide diversity of research and innovation topics that are studied in the TPF Program.|
Save Time and Resources
One of the greatest benefits of the TPF Program is the ability to leverage limited funds and increase a partner’s return on investment (ROI). By pooling funds, some agencies are able to participate in larger-scale research efforts that would otherwise not be feasible. Through collaborative partnerships, agencies can solve shared problems at a fraction of the cost of conducting the research alone.
Iowa DOT’s participation in the TPF Program is one example of successful collaborative partnerships. Iowa DOT currently works with more than 48 State partners on their 20 active pooled fund projects. By working with these partners, Iowa DOT has documented that the average pooled fund returns a benefit of 18 times greater than its cost to Iowa DOT.
“Iowa DOT is always on the lookout for new materials, methods, and technologies that can help improve safety, increase efficiency, and save money. However, transportation research projects can be expensive, and often Iowa is interested in lines of inquiry that might duplicate efforts of other States with similar needs. By sharing the research cost and oversight with other State DOTs through the Federal TPF Program, Iowa DOT has found a way to get the best of both worlds: cutting-edge research within an established budget,” says Khyle Clute, Iowa DOT State planning and research engineer.
Iowa DOT has found that without participating in these pooled fund studies, it would take 67 years to fund the same amount of research. Pooled Fund studies help partners to join together and share the benefits of the research results.
Washington State DOT (WSDOT) also explained the value and benefit of their participation in the TPF Program. “WSDOT participated in a total of 38 transportation research pooled funds of all sizes in FY 2020, contributing $2,126,500 to the $51,364,973, raised by the collective effort of participating States and others for these projects,” says Jon Peterson, multimodal research manager, research and library services for WSDOT’s transportation safety and systems analysis division. “By combining our funds with the other States, in return for every $1 dollar of pooled fund investment during this time period, WSDOT benefitted from an estimated $24 dollars of research power, sparking innovation, and enabling us to implement new, promising techniques into agency processes and project design.”
While the specific ROI varies by partner, WSDOT and Iowa DOT are both great examples of how States can use limited funding to meet their needs through participation in the TPF Program.
Partnerships and Collaboration
Another advantage of joining the TPF Program is the knowledge transfer that occurs via partnerships and collaboration. Every TPF study is assigned an FHWA subject matter expert in that research topic area. In addition, each study forms a Technical Advisory Committee that includes agency representatives and subject matter experts from all partners. This allows for knowledge and technology transfer across staff at different agencies. Participants are able to learn from each others’ experience and form connections that not only can assist with that specific research but also benefit in other areas as well.
The Smart Work Zone Deployment Initiative (SWZDI), study number TPF-5(295), is a great example of the benefits that come through the partnerships and collaboration of the TPF Program. Partners have built momentum from the relationships developed by sharing experiences and lessons learned. SWZDI partners include State DOTs, universities, State Local Technical Assistance Programs (LTAPs), and industry professionals.
In 2019, there were 762 crashes related to work zones and 842 fatalities, according to data from the National Work Zone Safety Information Clearinghouse on the American Road & Transportation Builders Association’s website. SWZDI has leveraged partnerships to produce more than 90 studies, evaluations, and research products addressing safety and mobility in work zones. The study topics change every year to adapt to the most pressing safety needs of the different partners. For a list of completed SWZDI studies from 2000 to 2022, visit https://swzdi.intrans.iastate.edu/research/completed/. One example of the completed research is the use of portable variable speed limit signs to improve safety and operational efficiency. The goal of this system is to provide a dynamic means to reduce speeds as needed in active construction zones.
Other topics studied include driveway assistance devices, autonomous/connected vehicles in work zones, a smartphone-based prototype system for incident work zone management driven by crowd-sourced data, evaluation of temporary work zone pavement markings, and many more. The TPF SWZDI study has served as a research arm to help solve common problems of the partner agencies.
“The SWZDI pooled fund provides an approach for members to do initial or follow-up explorations of tools, technologies, and methodologies that may help improve the mobility and safety of work zones,” says Iowa LTAP Director and SWZDI Program Manager Keith Knapp. “It also provides a venue for member States to network, collaborate, and communicate about their experiences, needs, and approaches with a wide range of existing and proposed work zone issues.”
|Example of a warning sign used in traffic control zones.|
|High friction surface treatments, one of the proven low-cost safety countermeasures studied by TPF-5(317), reduces crashes at horizontal curves up to 48 percent.|
Partnerships across agencies, like those formed in the SWZDI study, help with continuity. Many organizations and agencies have consistent staff turnover and changes. TPF studies provide a means for new staff at those organizations to learn through documented past challenges and lessons learned, and by meeting other subject matter experts who can share their institutional knowledge. SWDZI members have also seen this benefit.
Another great example of using partnerships and collaborations to move innovation forward is the Evaluation of Low-Cost Safety Improvements Pooled Fund Study (ELCSI–PFS), study number TPF-5(317). This study has one of the largest participation rates, with more than 43 partner agencies.
|The Low-Cost Safety Improvements Study works with more than 43 partner agencies.|
“This pooled fund study has been invaluable to both MDOT (Michigan DOT) and the staff in the safety programs area. The annual meeting allows various staff members to learn about new and improved low-cost safety improvements and, more importantly, to network and learn from fellow DOTs and researchers,” says Mark Bott, engineer of traffic and safety for MDOT.
Through collaboration, the study has issued over 60 publications studying low-cost safety countermeasures.
Institutionalizing Proven Innovations and Best Practices
The research produced by partners in the TPF Program has helped to influence and improve the state of the practice. Several studies have produced research and innovations that have been later adopted as an institutionalized best practice. The ELCSI study has helped to document safety solutions for budgets of all sizes. While some countermeasures may appear to be minimal, they have been proven to reduce crashes. With an estimated 36,096 traffic-related deaths in 2019, this study helps evaluate potential low-cost improvements by their benefit to cost ratio, overall effectiveness, and other technical information (material, design, and construction). The proven research, technologies, and innovations from the study have been incorporated as institutionalized best practices across the country. Countermeasures such as wrong-way alert systems, mumble strips, increased retroreflectivity, improved curve delineation, and many more are included in some of the published reports.
“ELCSI will continue to be pertinent and valuable to highway practitioners and stakeholders for years to come,” says Roya Amjadi, research highway safety specialist, FHWA’s Office of Safety Research & Development.
Another TPF study that stakeholders have seen benefits from is the Transportation Avalanche Research Pool (TARP), study number TPF-5(337). The TARP study explores research related to avalanche mitigation equipment to improve the safety and efficiency of highway transportation in mountain corridors. Reducing the avalanche hazard to transportation corridors is crucial to the winter operations of agencies around the world. Participation in this study includes State DOTs and international partners facing similar pressing avalanche hazard issues. TARP has studied various remote avalanche control systems to perform hazard mitigation without any needed human interaction.
|The Transportation Avalanche Research Pool study evaluated avalanche mitigation technology that uses a hydrogen/oxygen gas mixture housed inside an open cone shell to create pin-point explosions to trigger avalanches. The structure is semipermanent and positioned in known avalanche start areas before the snow season begins.|
|The TPF-5(337) study looked at the effectiveness of remote avalanche control systems to reduce avalanche hazards along highway corridors.|
“TARP is one of the most successful pooled funds I have participated in, and having international partners adds a lot of perspective and value to our group,” says Jamie Yount, winter operations program manager at Colorado DOT. “TARP brings almost all of the highway avalanche programs in North America together for a strong collaborative effort that has produced valuable research that has delivered meaningful results on the highway.”
Many of the innovations identified in the TPF-5(337) study have been further developed and implemented in mountain corridors around the world. According to one of TARP’s international partners, “We (Milford Roads) find the TARP work hugely valuable, and many innovations discussed or developed there [are ones] we have picked up or developed further,” says Kevin Thompson, Milford Road alliance manager, Fiordland, New Zealand.
Research conducted through TPF studies allows for States to stay agile and adopt some of the most current up-to-date innovations and best practices. For example, the Traffic Control Device (TCD) Consortium, study number TPF-5(447) demonstrates how research can continue to adapt to the needs of transportation agencies. The purpose of the TCD study is to address emerging traffic control device (TCD) research needs by evaluating the efficacy of novel TCDs for potential incorporation into the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways (MUTCD) to best meet agencies’ changing needs.
|The TCD Consortium Pooled Fund study has led to changes that have been incorporated into the MUTCD. The MUTCD establishes the minimum traffic control device standards to ensure uniformity of traffic control devices across the Nation.|
“The TCD Pooled Fund study provides a venue for collaboration and information sharing among members,” says Laura Mero, FHWA research psychologist.
The TPF-5(447) study conducts cutting edge research to provide local and State agencies with a faster response to both their existing TCD needs, as well as emerging needs brought on by new technologies.
“The TCD Consortium Pooled Fund Study has proven to be an invaluable mechanism for providing timely, efficient human factors evaluation of a variety of new concepts and applications for the MUTCD,” say FHWA’s Martin (Marty) Calawa, transportation specialist, and Kevin Sylvester, lead transportation specialist. “A great number of changes found in the 2009 MUTCD were supported by the results of this Pooled Fund project, as well as a number of interim approvals, so that road users could benefit without having to wait for the next edition of the MUTCD,” say Calawa and Sylvester.
The TCD Consortium Pooled Fund study results have led to significant changes that have been incorporated into the MUTCD, influencing design and construction standards across the country.
These studies are examples of the great work that is being done through collaboration and partnerships in the TPF Program. More details about study results are posted to an interactive TPF website at https://www.pooledfund.org/. The posted results not only benefit those that are part of the TPF study, but also other partners that would like to learn about the topic.
For interested participants, TPF studies must be initiated and led by either a State DOT or FHWA. The TPF Program is unique in that it allows for a wide variety of partners to participate and collaborate. For example, the program embraces public/private partnerships and international organization participation. The following types of agencies are encouraged to join as study partners:
- State DOTs.
- Federal agencies.
- Regional and local agencies.
- Academic institutions.
- Private industry.
- Foreign entities in positive standing with the U.S. Government.
|The Transportation Pooled Fund Program collaborates with partners all over the world.|
Looking to the Future
The TPF Program has produced high value research and innovations that have been adopted and institutionalized by partner agencies around the world. It serves as a great resource to leverage limited funds to address important transportation issues. Through collaboration, transportation agencies can adapt as technology changes, experiment, learn from failures, reduce duplicate research practices, build on each other’s successes and expertise, and improve the transportation system. The TPF Program is excited for the future research that will be conducted to address stakeholders’ needs and improve the transportation system.
To help support this future research, there will be enhancements to the TPF website, updated manuals, and new training on the TPF process. Also, a biennial TPF Excellence Award will be launched, which will recognize two TPF studies each cycle that have made a significant impact toward advancing national research efforts through meaningful partnerships and collaboration. The award will be a great opportunity to highlight the work achieved through the TPF Program.
New solicitations and projects are posted every month on the TPF website, as well as updated resources for the program and opportunities to help meet your agency’s needs and goals. For more information about initiating a Pooled Fund study and viewing a list of open solicitations, visit the TPF website at https://www.pooledfund.org/ or contact Tricia Sergeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patricia Sergeson, MPA, PMP, is the TPF program manager and State planning and research, subpart B funding point of contact with FHWA’s Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in McLean, VA. She has a master’s degree from Rutgers University in public administration, and two bachelor’s degrees—one in political science and another in foreign languages (Spanish) from Washington State University.