Surface Transportation:

Research Funding, Federal Role, and Emerging Issues

RCED-96-233: Published: Sep 6, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 6, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on surface transportation research, focusing on: (1) public and private funding for surface transportation research; (2) the transportation community's views on such research and the Department of Transportation's (DOT) ability to fulfill that role; and (3) issues that the transportation community believes that Congress and DOT should address during the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA).

GAO found that: (1) between fiscal years 1992 and 1996, DOT provided $2.9 billion for surface transportation research programs to five modal agencies, with the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) receiving $2.1 billion; (2) FHwA allocated almost half of its funding to its Intelligent Transportation Systems Program, and other agencies conducted research on vehicle and driver safety, high-speed ground transportation, mass transit operations, and advanced transportation technologies; (3) ISTEA has encouraged greater public and private cooperation as well as university involvement, and states have increased the amount of federal and state money they spend on such research; (4) the transportation community generally agreed that DOT should lead the nation's surface transportation research program and serve as a focal point for technology transfer, since it has broader interests and a wider perspective than the other parties; (5) DOT has improved external and internal coordination of its surface transportation research program, but lacks the resources and authority to create an integrated framework or strategic plan for surface transportation research; and (6) the transportation community believes that the surface transportation research program does not adequately address the total surface transportation system, giving limited attention to system assessment, policy, and intermodal research, and does not include enough basic, long-term, high-risk research to respond to complex, persistent problems.

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