Making Research a Reality

In July 2005, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign established a nationally recognized partnership to address the ever-changing challenges of managing a world-class transportation system. To date, IDOT has committed more than $43 million in federal and state funds to the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT) to manage the study of new technologies, products, and knowledge with the goal of accomplishing IDOT’s mission: to provide a safe, cost-effective transportation system to Illinois in ways that enhance quality of life, promote economic prosperity, and demonstrate respect for our environment.

ICT provides IDOT with access to a pool of experts in all areas of transportation, allowing IDOT to conduct top-of-the-line research. Over the past nine years, ICT has completed more than 100 projects. Implementing the research findings is the culmination of these efforts.

But how exactly does IDOT define “implementation”? Implementation is the use, adoption, dissemination, or standardization of research findings to modify, create, or support new or current policy, standards, and products for IDOT. Through implementation, research findings help IDOT improve its state of practice. Examples range from the adoption of a new grass seed specification to calibration of IDOT’s seismic design methodology. These successes were achieved by creating unparalleled relationships between researchers and practitioners, which allowed IDOT to develop innovative transportation solutions.

Under the Code of Federal Regulations that governs IDOT’s federally funded research, the Federal Highway Administration requires IDOT to track and monitor implementation activities. IDOT and ICT have invested effort in the dissemination and transfer of research with the goal of fostering a culture of implementation and collaboration between researchers and IDOT’s subject-matter experts. IDOT has made changes to encourage management involvement, increase staff support for implementation, foster the planning of implementation throughout the research process, and perform continual monitoring of implementation plans to facilitate deployment of research ideas upon project completion.

From advice in policy, specifications, and standards to funding for deployment of new technologies, the Bureau of Materials and Physical Research continually works with ICT, principal investigators, and IDOT staff to facilitate implementation of research findings. It is the strong belief of IDOT that the success of the Illinois research program will not be measured only by the number of projects completed but also by how implementation of research findings helps IDOT achieve its mission.

Juan David Pava, P.E., is the Acting Research Implementation Engineer in the IDOT Bureau of Materials and Physical Research. He can be reached at Juan.Pava@illinois.gov.