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News from the National Academies

Date: Jan. 12, 2004
Contacts: Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer
Christian Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

National Research Program Needed to Improve Safety and
Efficiency of Roadways During Severe Weather

WASHINGTON -- Recent advances in meteorology and roadway technology could significantly improve the response to weather-related hazards that impede road travel, such as snow, rain, and flash floods, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. In particular, the federal government should establish a national road weather research program led by the Federal Highway Administration to bring together the weather and surface-transportation research communities to tackle these issues in a coordinated way, said the committee that wrote the report.

"Too often, people believe that little can be done about the adverse effects of weather on roadway transportation," said John Snow, committee chair and dean of the College of Geosciences at the University of Oklahoma, Norman. "On the contrary, we are very close to being able to provide drivers and transportation managers with real-time weather, road condition, and routing information."

Adverse weather is associated with more than 1.5 million vehicle accidents each year, resulting in about 800,000 injuries and 7,000 fatalities, the report notes. Snow, rain, fog, ice, and freezing rain impair road conditions. As a result, drivers endure the frustration of more than 500 million hours of weather-related delays annually on highways. Also, severe weather phenomena such as hurricanes, blizzards, and flash floods create logistical challenges -- for example, choosing the best evacuation routes or deciding when to close roads -- for traffic managers, law enforcement officials, and emergency managers.

To improve safety and efficiency, information about how weather is affecting roads must be gathered and communicated more effectively to motorists and to those who build, maintain, and operate the nation's roads, the report says. In particular, regional research centers should be established to develop new technologies that can better monitor, predict, and communicate to users the effects of weather on road conditions. National demonstration corridors where new technologies could be installed and tested should be established along two U.S. interstate highways, the report adds. Ultimately, these research efforts should lead to nationwide improvements in products and services that mitigate the effects of weather on roads.

FHWA should lead the proposed research program, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a key partner, the committee said. The report estimates that the program will require about $25 million each year for 15 years.

The research program would benefit from interactions among federal, state, and local governments, the private sector, and academia, the report says. For example, private companies are already working with researchers to develop tools that can help road maintenance officials make cost-effective decisions about treating roads in anticipation of icy conditions. Also, real-time traffic data collected by states on roadways could be used by researchers to help determine how weather affects traffic flow.

Some of the most exciting improvements that could be anticipated from the national road weather research program are expected from "Intelligent Transportation Systems," a national effort that applies detection and communication technologies to roadway transportation, the committee said. This initiative calls for vehicles and roadways to be outfitted with instruments to measure road and atmospheric conditions, so that drivers can be informed immediately of poor road conditions.

"Fifteen years from now, transportation officials will have many powerful tools at their disposal for optimizing the safety and efficiency of the roadway system," Snow said. "This will be a significant improvement over the current, time-consuming approach, in which traffic and emergency managers must consult separate sources for weather, traffic, and emergency-response information."

The study was sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science and technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Where the Weather Meets the Road: A Research Agenda for Improving Road Weather Services will be available later this year from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or order on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Earth and Life Studies
Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate
and
TRANSPORTATION RESEARCH BOARD

Committee on Weather Research for Surface Transportation: The Roadway Environment

John T. Snow (chair)
Dean
College of Geosciences
University of Oklahoma
Norman

Elizabeth Carter
President
WeatherExtreme LLC
Kings Beach, Calif.

Dennis L. Christiansen
Deputy Director
Texas Transportation Institute
Texas A&M University
College Station

Bradley R. Colman
Science and Operations Officer
National Weather Service Forecasting Office
Seattle

Paul J. DeLannoy
Director
Natural Resource Sector Services
Environment Canada
Gatineau, Quebec

Francis B. Francois*
Independent Consultant, and
Executive Director
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (retired)
Bowie, Md.

George L. Frederick
General Manager
Wind Profiler Business Unit
Vaisala Inc.
Boulder, Colo.

Frances C. Holt
Chief
Atmospheric Research and Applications Division, and
Director
Cooperative Research Programs
Office of Research and Applications
National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Silver Spring, Md.

Margaret A. LeMone*
Senior Scientist
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Boulder, Colo.

Curt Pape
Coordinator
Road and Weather Information System
Minnesota Department of Transportation
St. Paul

Leland D. Smithson
Coordinator
Snow and Ice Cooperative Program
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
Ames, Iowa

Richard Wagoner
Deputy Director and Program Development Manager
Research Applications Program
National Center for Atmospheric Research
Boulder, Colo.

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Amanda C. Staudt
Study Director

* Member, National Academy of Engineering