Studies and Special Programs Division
TRB's Studies and Special Programs Division is led by Stephen Godwin.
The Studies and Special Programs Division conducts policy studies at the request of the U.S. Congress, executive branch agencies, states, and other sponsors; produces syntheses of current practices in highway, transit, and airport operations; and manages Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis (IDEA) programs in highways and transit and rail safety.
With the guidance of committees drawn from the nation’s leading experts, the Policy Studies group produces reports examining complex and controversial transportation issues. Studies cover all modes of transportation and a variety of safety, economic, environmental, and research policy issues. The U.S. Congress and the executive branch have adopted many recommendations from TRB policy reports, attesting to the substantive value of the findings. The Subcommittee on Planning and Policy Review provides oversight for TRB’s policy work. Since 1998, all completed policy study reports are posted on the TRB website. Informing Transportation Policy Choices, a document that provides an overview of all TRB policy studies from 1983 through 2003, is also posted on the Policy Studies page of the website.
Two-page overview of our policy work
SYNTHESIS OF INFORMATION REPORTS
Under the sponsorship of the Cooperative Research Programs administered by TRB, the Synthesis unit prepares reports on current practice and knowledge for a range of key highway, transit, and airport topics. Practitioners and researchers make extensive use of the reports.
A highway committee, a transit committee, and an airport committee of the Cooperative Research Programs select the study topics each year. A consultant experienced in the topic area researches and writes each Synthesis report, with guidance from an expert panel.
INNOVATIONS DESERVING EXPLORATORY ANALYSIS PROGRAMS
Innovations Deserving Exploratory Analysis (IDEA) programs fund early-stage investigations of potential breakthroughs in transportation technology. Through small projects, researchers investigate the feasibility of innovative concepts that could advance transportation practice. IDEA programs sponsor high-risk research that is independent of the immediate mission concerns of public agencies and of the short-term financial imperatives of the private sector.
The state DOTs collectively fund highway-related research through the NCHRP IDEA program. Research on innovations applicable to transit practice is carried out under the Transit IDEA program, funded by FTA through TCRP. FRA sponsors the Rail Safety IDEA program, which funds projects to improve the safety of rail operations.
Each IDEA program follows a similar administrative model, adapted for sponsorship arrangements and target audiences. Each program operates through a committee or panel of volunteer transportation experts who solicit, review, and select proposals that merit research contracts. Because IDEA projects are high-risk investigations of unproven concepts, funds awarded for any one project are usually less than $100,000. Frequently, however, IDEA funds are augmented through cost-share arrangements, nearly doubling the amount of research that can be supported through the IDEA programs.
An annual summary of completed and current projects is published for each of the IDEA programs and distributed at the TRB Annual Meeting. These summaries also are available on the IDEA page of the TRB website, along with the IDEA Program Announcement, which contains forms and guidelines for submitting proposals. A less formal publication, Ignition, features interviews with IDEA investigators and transportation leaders, plus articles that highlight promising projects. Issues of Ignition are archived on the IDEA website.