This morning, I had the opportunity to tour the Federal Highway Administration's Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center in Virginia. Though the Center is part of FHWA, the work done by Turner-Fairbank employees cuts across all modes of transportation.
While most people have never heard of the Turner-Fairbank Center, it’s impossible to overstate the importance of the work they do.
That’s because the testing, modeling, and development in each of the Center's labs leads directly to greater safety for everyone on America’s roadways. And safety is, as my Fast Lane readers know, our top priority at DOT.
Turner-Fairbanks staff even let me try out some of their tests, like a Transportation Operations Lab vehicle that communicates with traffic signals and other infrastructure in the area to make sure drivers don’t miss important information. I also took a virtual spin in the Highway Driving Simulator on the Missouri DOT's revolutionary Double Crossover Diamond Interchange.
And I had the chance to look at revolutionary technologies making our roads and bridges more durable and strong. Engineers at the Center have tested artifacts like pieces of the I-35W bridge that collapsed in Minnesota to help the NTSB determine the cause of the bridge's failure and develop ways to make infrastructure safer.
In the Structures Lab, I observed a force test on a new lightweight, high-performance concrete bridge deck. As the test operator increased the amount of force on the deck to nearly 400,000 pounds--yes, they can do that!—you could start to see the strain on the materials.
And at the Hydraulics Lab, engineers are testing new bridge decks that resist separating from their structures. This critical line of research emerged after Hurricane Katrina where the force of floodwaters lifted bridge decking away from bridge piers. And in a separate Aerodynamics Lab, engineers test bridges for their ability to resist wind damage.
Finally at the Federal Outdoor Impact Lab, I witnessed a crash test designed to study whether air bags would deploy quickly enough when a vehicle strikes a short curb then continues, slamming into a more imposing structure.
It was interesting to learn that the same lab works with the State Department, testing the strength of traffic barriers for use at American embassies abroad.
All of this engineering research and testing leads toward a single goal: greater safety. For that--and for a fantastic tour--I say "Thank you," to all the great folks at the FHWA Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center.