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The mission of the Transportation Research Board is to provide leadership in transportation innovation and progress through research and information exchange, conducted within a setting that is objective, interdisciplinary, and multimodal.
TRB IN THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES
TRB is one of seven program units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which provides independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conducts other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine. TRB’s varied activities—described below—annually engage more than 7,000 engineers, scientists, and other transportation researchers and practitioners from the public and private sectors and academia, all of whom contribute their expertise in the public interest by participating on TRB committees, panels, and task forces. The program is supported by state transportation departments, federal agencies including the component administrations of the U.S. Department of Transportation, and other organizations and individuals interested in the development of transportation.
A resource to the nation and to the transportation community worldwide, TRB provides an extensive portfolio of services:
Opportunities for information exchange on current transportation research and practice,
Management of cooperative research and other research programs,
Analyses of national transportation policy issues and guidance on federal and other research programs, and
Publications and access to research information from around the world.
Fostering Information Exchange
TRB conducts a variety of programs and activities designed to support dialogue and information exchange among researchers, practicing transportation professionals, and others concerned with transportation.
Each January, more than 10,000 transportation professionals from around the world—including representatives of federal, state, and local government agencies; universities; and industry—gather in Washington, D.C., to participate in the world’s largest forum designed specifically for the formal and informal exchange of information among transportation researchers and practitioners. Approximately 3,000 presentations, including more than 1,500 peer-reviewed technical papers, are given throughout the week of this gathering. In addition, more than 200 TRB standing committees and numerous subcommittees hold open meetings to discuss current research and identify research needs.
Conferences and Workshops
Every year, TRB organizes 70 or more specialty conferences and workshops on subjects and issues of interest to the transportation community. These events provide opportunities for information sharing and in-depth exploration of specific topics, ranging from low-volume roads and statewide transportation planning to light rail transit, marine salvage, highway safety, and community impact assessment.
Standing Committees and Task Forces
In 1920 the Board established three technical committees to promote research and disseminate highway research findings. Today TRB maintains more than 200 standing committees and task forces that address all aspects and modes of transportation. More than 4,000 administrators, operators, engineers, attorneys, researchers, educators, and others concerned with transportation serve on these committees and task forces without compensation. Committee members identify research needs; provide information to the transportation community on research priorities and procedures; review papers for presentation at the TRB Annual Meeting and for publication; encourage the incorporation of appropriate research findings into practice; and develop special programs, conferences, and workshops. Standing committees and task forces are organized into 11 groups, each overseen by a separate council. Six of the groups, including some 150 committees, address various functional aspects of transportation, with a major focus on highways. Each of the remaining five groups concentrates primarily on a specific transportation mode.
Policy and Organization
Systems Planning and Environment
Design and Construction
Operations and Maintenance
The combined functional and modal structure creates a synergy among the groups that enables the standing committees to address a wide variety of specific and crosscutting transportation research issues.
Information on the Board’s organization, committee activities, and upcoming conferences and meetings, as well as most recent full-text reports, can be found on TRB’s website (www.TRB.org). Users can search the current Publications Catalog and order reports online, apply to become a TRB affiliate, and register for the Annual Meeting and other events. TRB also distributes a complimentary weekly electronic newsletter, which provides timely information on TRB reports and activities as well as other news and information of interest to the transportation community. In addition, many TRB committees host electronic mailing lists and discussion groups that allow transportation professionals with common interests to pose questions and share information and experiences.
Each year, TRB technical staff visit the administrators and professional staff of all state transportation departments, many academic and research institutions, and other transportation-related agencies and organizations to exchange information concerning research and practice. These visits have four primary objectives:
To identify specific problems and issues of importance to state departments of transportation and other transportation agencies and organizations;
To offer assistance and information that can help in addressing these problems and issues;
To identify topics and emerging issues that may be appropriate for TRB to address in the future, in its continuing efforts to support the needs of sponsors and the broader transportation community; and
To assess the quality and value of services currently being provided by TRB and identify other activities or services that may help TRB better serve its sponsors and other constituencies.
TRB administers a number of major research programs sponsored by other organizations. The oldest and largest of these programs, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP), is sponsored by the state transportation departments in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration. The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP), initiated in 1992, is sponsored by the Federal Transit Administration. Both are applied research programs in which the potential users of research results have a direct role in project selection. In 2002 TRB began administering the Commercial Truck and Bus Safety Synthesis Program (CTBSSP), which is sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The Congressionally requested Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP), which began work in 2006, is sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Two other new programs got under way in 2006--the Hazardous Materials Cooperative Research Program (HMCRP) and the National Cooperative Freight Research Program (NCFRP), both of which were authorized in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).
Under all of these programs, TRB organizes panels of experts to provide guidance on technical aspects of the research and to translate the problems into project statements with well-defined objectives. Research proposals are then solicited from private and public research organizations with capability and experience in the problem areas to be studied. The technical panels review the proposals, recommend contract awards, monitor research in progress, provide technical guidance, and determine the acceptability of the final reports. More than 3,000 experienced practitioners and research specialists currently serve on Cooperative Research Program panels. TRB also manages programs of smaller studies focused on synthesizing current practices and analyzing legal issues in both the NCHRP and the TCRP programs. Findings and publications from these synthesis and legal research projects have been well received by highway and transit practitioners.
National Cooperative Highway Research Program
Sponsored by the member departments of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program was created in 1962 as a means to accelerate research on acute problems that affect highway planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance nationwide. All of the state highway and transportation departments contribute to an annual cooperative pool of more than $30 million to fund the program’s activities. AASHTO committees and member departments and the Federal Highway Administration recommend research topics each year, and the AASHTO Standing Committee on Research (SCOR) determines both the projects to be funded and the levels of funding for those projects. A close working relationship with AASHTO during execution of the projects and the participation of experienced practitioners on project panels help ensure the application of completed NCHRP study results. For example, recent NCHRP projects have developed a recommended Mechanistic-Empirical Design Guide and software for pavements to be considered for adoption by AASHTO, and the multiple volumes of a 23-volume report, Guidance for Implementation of the AASHTO Strategic Highway Safety Plan.
Transit Cooperative Research Program
The Transit Cooperative Research Program was initiated in 1992 by three cooperating organizations: the Federal Transit Administration, the program sponsor, which has provided approximately $8 million annually; the Transit Development Corporation, a nonprofit educational and research organization established by the American Public Transportation Association, which provides program governance through the TCRP Oversight and Project Selection (TOPS) Committee; and the National Academies, acting through TRB, which serves as program manager.
Under TCRP the transit industry develops innovative near-term solutions to operating problems and adapts appropriate new technologies and approaches to help meet the demands placed on the nation’s public transit systems. The program’s research covers topics relating to all aspects of public transportation, including planning, service configuration, equipment, facilities, operations, human resources, maintenance, policy, and administrative practices. Each year, the TOPS Committee selects a program of research from the large number of candidate research problem statements submitted by organizations and individuals in the transit community. In recent years, TCRP projects have produced the second edition of the Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual and a series of volumens on transit security-related research, covery a variety of topics..
Airport Cooperative Research Program
The Airport Cooperative Research Program (ACRP) was authorized in legislation enacted in December 2003, and requires provision of funding through the annual federal appropriations process. ACRP, which began work in 2006, is an industry-driven applied research program that develops near-term, practical solutions to problems faced by airport operators. The congressionally authorized program is sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Research topics are selected by an independent governing board appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation that includes individuals from airports, universities, FAA, and the aviation industry.
National Cooperative Freight Research Program
The NCFRP carries out applied research on problems facing the freight industry that are not being adequately addressed by existing research programs. Sponsored by the Research and Innovative Technology Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation, NCFRP will cover a range of issues to improve the efficiency, reliability, safety, and security of the nation's freight transportation system.
The Hazardous Materials Cooperative Research Program
The HMCRP is a stakeholder-driven, problem-solving program, researching real-world, day-to-day operational issues in hazardous materials transportation with near- to mid-term time frames. The program, which began work in late 2006, is sponsored by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Commercial Truck and Bus Safety Synthesis Program
The CTBSSP is a relatively small cooperative research program administered by TRB. This program, sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, supports projects that summarize existing practice in a specific technical area of commercial truck and bus safety. On the basis of an industrywide solicitation, a program oversight panel selects synthesis topics and provides general guidance for the program.
Strategic Highway Research Program 2
Congress authorized the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP 2) in 2005 to investigate the underlying causes of highway crashes and congestion in a short-term program of focused research. To carry out that investigation, SHRP 2 targets goals in four interrelated focus areas:
Safety: Significantly improve highway safety by understanding driving behavior in a study of unprecedented scale.
Renewal: Develop design and construction methods that cause minimal disruption and produce long-lived facilities to renew the aging highway infrastructure.
Reliability: Reduce congestion and improve travel time reliability through incident management, response, and mitigation.
Capacity: Integrate mobility, economic, environmental, and community needs into the planning and design of new transportation capacity.
SHRP 2 is being conducted under a memorandum of understanding among the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Federal Highway Administration, and the National Research Council. The multiyear program (four years of funding, seven years to complete) began work in March 2006. With estimated funding of about $150 million, SHRP 2 is guided by an oversight committee and four technical coordinating committees, one in each of the four focus areas. More targeted task groups provide assistance in areas requiring specific technical expertise, including preparation of requests for proposals and review of proposals.
Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis
TRB also administers the Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis (IDEA) programs, which encourage investigation of innovative but untested concepts offering the potential for technological breakthroughs in transportation. The investigations are pursued through small contracts designed to demonstrate the feasibility of the concepts. Participating researchers respond to solicitations for proposals in areas of general interest to the transportation community. IDEA investigations have led to the development of a number of transportation technologies that offer alternatives to current practice, as well as departures that promise solutions to long-standing problems.
The NCHRP IDEA Program, which supports highway and intermodal investigations, is funded by the state transportation departments through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Transit IDEA is financed through the Transit Cooperative Research Program. The Federal Railroad Administration sponsors the High-Speed Rail IDEA Program and cosponsors the Transportation Safety Technology IDEA Program, along with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Providing Policy Analysis and Advice
Since 1982, TRB has conducted more than 100 studies at the request of Congress, executive-branch federal agencies, the states, and other organizations on an array of complex and often controversial transportation topics of national significance. Examples include counterterrorism, truck size and weight regulation, airport capacity, transit use, high-speed rail, airline deregulation, dredging, environmental policy, school transportation safety, and automotive safety. New studies are initiated annually.
Each study is conducted by a specially appointed independent committee. Committee members are selected to represent appropriate areas of expertise and a balance of perspectives on the issues involved; members serve without compensation. The committee process is open to public scrutiny and comment, in accordance with the Federal Advisory Committee Act Amendments of 1997. Every final report undergoes a rigorous institutional review, in which outside experts examine the report in accordance with guidelines developed by the National Academies to ensure that the committee has provided a balanced and fair assessment of the topic addressed.
Examples of the impacts that specific TRB studies have had on transportation policy include: implementation of the recommendations in The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Rating System for Rollover Resistance concerning the rollover propensity of sport utility vehicles by NHTSA; the U.S. Department of Transportation’s decision against recommending a regulation governing airline price competition in response to recommendations in Entry and Competition in the U.S. Airline Industry; and the adoption by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of guidance from Hazardous Materials Shipment Information for Emergency Response in planning pilot studies for hazmat security systems.
Through special expert committees, TRB also provides a forum for conducting periodic or continuing reviews of specific transportation research and technology programs. Such committees have provided guidance on the overall highway research program, the Long-Term Pavement Performance studies, and technology transfer activities. Other study committees have provided advice on highway cost allocation studies, research programs of the Federal Railroad Administration, development of standards for intelligent transportation systems, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ survey programs, and the federal transportation science and technology strategy.
Issuing Publications and Research Information
Through its publications and research information services, TRB disseminates transportation research results worldwide.
TRB produces and distributes about 200 publications annually. Most of the printed publications are also available electronically through the TRB website. The following are the major publications series:
Transportation Research Records: Journal of the Transportation Research Board contain technical papers that have been accepted for publication through a rigorous peer-review process refereed by TRB technical committees.
Special Reports present the results of policy studies, including studies mandated by Congress or requested by executive-branch federal agencies. These studies are conducted by expert committees appointed by the National Research Council (NRC).
Cooperative Research Program (CRP) Reports, Syntheses of Practice, Research Results Digests, Web-Only Documents, and Legal Research Digests contain the findings of individual research projects sponsored by TRB's Cooperative Research Programs. Syntheses of Practice are also published for the Commercial Truck and Bus Safety Synthesis Program.
Conference Proceedings contain papers, presentations, and summaries of discussions from conferences, workshops, and symposia convened by TRB.
Transportation Research Circulars present technical material considered to be of immediate interest to the transportation community.
In addition, TRB issues a variety of other publications, ranging from the Highway Capacity Manual to general-interest periodicals. TR News, the Board’s bimonthly magazine with an international circulation of 10,000, features timely articles on innovative and state-of-the-art research and practice in all modes of transportation. Ignition, issued quarterly, contains news of the IDEA programs. The TRB Transportation Research E-Newsletter, with more than 30,000 subscribers, provides free weekly updates on TRB reports and events, together with other news and research information of interest to the transportation community.
Online Research Information
TRB produces and maintains the Transportation Research Information Services (TRIS), the world’s largest and most comprehensive online bibliographic database of published and ongoing transportation research. Currently, TRIS contains more than 600,000 records (abstracts and citations) on the various modes and disciplines in transportation, including planning, management, economics, design and construction, materials, environmental issues, safety and human factors, and operations. Each year, about 30,000 references from technical journals, conference proceedings, technical reports, and monographs are added to the database. Through a cooperative agreement with the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the TRIS Database is available on the Internet through the website of the National Transportation Library. This service, TRIS Online, can be accessed through the TRB homepage at www.TRB.org. TRIS is also available through two fee-based services, Dialog and Silverplatter’s TRANSPORT CD-ROM.
TRB produces and provides web access via www.TRB.org to a database of current research in transportation, the Research in Progress (RiP) Database. The RiP website provides access to more than 9,500 descriptions of current or recently completed transportation research projects from federal and state transportation agencies, universities, and international organizations.
The TRB Publications Index is a searchable index of the Board’s papers and reports. This index now provides links to the full text of the publications or to direct ordering information. TRB’s website also contains the largest database on intelligent transportation systems— the Caltrans PATH Database, produced by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. The Caltrans PATH database is also included in TRIS.
Response to Inquiries
TRB responds annually to several thousand specific requests from state transportation departments and TRB affiliates for information concerning transportation research and practice. The TRB Library and TRIS staffs handle and provide personalized responses to most requests. When appropriate, inquiries are referred to staff specialists for action.
TRB: AN EVOLVING ORGANIZATION
TRB’s formation and evolution have strongly shaped its mission and services. Its current organization both reflects its history and provides an appropriate framework for delivering the services that TRB provides to sponsors, affiliates, and others concerned with transportation.
TRB was established in 1920 as the National Advisory Board on Highway Research to provide a mechanism for the exchange of information and research results about highway technology. Renamed the Highway Research Board (HRB) in 1925, the organization accomplished its mission through standing committees, publications, and an annual meeting. In the decades that followed, HRB steadily increased in size. Information exchange remained its sole mission until the 1950s, when it began to undertake management of ad hoc research projects. The first continuing research management activity—the National Cooperative Highway Research Program— started in 1962. During the 1960s, the Board’s activities became increasingly multimodal in outlook. In 1974 the Highway Research Board became the Transportation Research Board. Since then, TRB’s portfolio of services has expanded significantly—first in the early 1980s, when it began conducting studies of national transportation policy issues, and again in the 1990s, when Congress, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the state departments of transportation asked TRB to undertake additional tasks, including management responsibilities for the Transit Cooperative Research Program, guidance of ongoing research programs such as the Long-Term Pavement Performance studies, and management of the Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis programs. More recent additions have included new cooperative research programs in airports, freight, and hazardous materials transportation, and the second Strategic Highway Research Program.
The TRB Executive Committee, whose members are appointed by the chairman of NRC, exercises oversight responsibility for the Board’s programs and activities. Members include senior transportation industry executives, top officials of public-sector transportation agencies, and distinguished researchers from academia. The TRB Executive Office provides policy and operational guidance for TRB programs and activities, oversees committee and panel appointments and report review, provides support and direction for human resource issues and staffing needs, develops and directs the Board's communications and outreach efforts, and provides staff support to the Executive Committee and its Subcommittee for NRC Oversight. The Executive Office also manages the editing, production, design, and publication of many TRB reports, including the journal series, magazine, and other titles.
TRB’s programs and staff members are organized into the following divisions:
Technical Activities supports standing committees and task forces, organizes the TRB Annual Meeting and other conferences and workshops, and conducts field visits to transportation agencies, organizations, and research institutions.
Studies and Special Programs convenes specially appointed expert committees to conduct policy studies and program reviews, maintains the TRIS database, provides library services, prepares synthesis reports on behalf of the Cooperative Research Programs, and manages the Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis (IDEA) programs.
Cooperative Research Programs manages the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, the Transit Cooperative Research Program, the Airport Cooperative Research Program, the National Cooperative Freight Research Program, and the Hazardous Materials Cooperative Research Program.
Strategic Highway Research Program 2 manages a targeted, short-term, results-oriented program of contract research designed to advance highway performance and safety for U.S. highway users.
Administration and Finance provides financial, information technology, and other administrative support, including financial oversight of the contracts and grants that support the work of TRB, administration of publications sales and distribution, and maintenance of benefits and services for sponsor and affiliate organizations.
The Marine Board, formed in 1965 and previously situated within another unit of NRC, became part of TRB in 1999. The Marine Board provides a forum for the exchange of information relating to maritime transportation and related economic, environmental, and technology issues in a broader context. It identifies potential topics for policy studies, conferences, and other activities. The Marine Board is administratively housed within TRB’s Technical Activities Division.
Sponsors and Affiliates
Sponsors and affiliates provide support for TRB core programs and activities. The two-way flow of benefits resulting from affiliation with TRB was a key part of the Board’s founding concept. Today TRB has a tiered program that allows sponsors and affiliates to customize the services and benefits they receive in exchange for their fundamental support for TRB programs and activities that are of interest to the entire transportation community. There are five levels of core support: sponsor, sustaining affiliate, organizational affiliate, individual affiliate, and student affiliate. Basic affiliate benefits include reduced registration fees for the TRB Annual Meeting, a complimentary subscription to TR News, discounts on most TRB books and reports, use of the TRB Library, and assistance with use of TRB computer-based information services.
Sponsors are the major source of financial support for TRB’s core technical activities. Federal, state, and local government agencies and professional societies and organizations that represent industry groups are eligible to be TRB sponsors. The level of a sponsor’s contribution is determined on the basis of the services and benefits an organization wishes to receive; there is a minimum annual contribution, except for state transportation agencies, whose allocations are determined by formula. Sponsors include the transportation and highway departments of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico; the component administrations of the U.S. Department of Transportation; various other federal agencies; and a number of other private and public organizations. Sponsor organizations enjoy ex officio representation on the TRB Executive Committee either directly or, in the case of the state transportation departments, through their association. A list of current sponsors is available on the TRB website at www.TRB.org/directory/sponsors.asp.
Sustaining Affiliates include agencies and organizations that wish to contribute substantially to the support of TRB core programs but that do not elect to or, because of their status as individual corporations or businesses, are ineligible to become sponsors. Like sponsors, sustaining affiliates negotiate their contributions on the basis of the level of services they wish to receive, subject to a the minimum annual contributio. A list of current sustaining affiliates is available on the TRB website at www.TRB.org/directory/sustainers.asp.
Organizational Affiliates include organizations, institutions, agencies, and businesses, which can choose to contribute at one of three different levels of support, depending on the level of services desired. In addition to basic affiliate benefits, organizational affiliates receive most publications at no cost as well as complimentary registrations to the TRB Annual Meeting. A list of current organizational affiliates is available on the TRB website at www.TRB.org/directory/affiliates.asp.
Individual Affiliates and Student Affiliates (full-time students at accredited postsecondary institutions) enjoy basic affiliate benefits and may subscribe to TRB publications at a substantially reduced cost.
TRB’s annual expenditures for program activities exceed $90 million. About 15 percent of expenditures is for technical activities (standing committees, Annual Meeting, field visit program, publications, and TRIS); 63 percent for the Cooperative Research Programs; 15 percent for SHRP 2; and 7 percent for studies and other continuing activities. Approximately 39 percent of TRB’s total financial support is provided by the transportation departments of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Contracts and grants from the component administrations of the U.S. Department of Transportation and other federal agencies provide an additional 57 percent, and 4 percent is provided by private sponsoring organizations and income from publication sales, meeting registrations, and affiliate fees.