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Highways for LIFE: Changing the way today’s infrastructure is built

Case Studies | August 1, 2007 | By:


The purpose of Highways for LIFE is to advance Long-lasting highways using Innovative technologies and practices to accomplish Fast construction of Efficient and safe pavements and bridges, with the overall goal of improving the driving experience for America.

HfL goals

It’s a new way of doing business. Just as the construction of the U.S. interstate system transformed the way America traveled during the past 50 years, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) new Highways for LIFE (HfL) program aims to bring a higher level of innovation and technology to improving the nation’s roadways.

At a time when congestion is on the rise, highways and associated infrastructure are aging and requiring increased rehabilitation and reconstruction, and road work can bring months or years of delays, HfL is about achieving the Long-lasting,Innovative, and Fast construction of Efficient and safe highways.

HfL goals:

  • Improve safety
  • Reduce congestion due to construction
  • Improve quality
  • Improve customer satisfaction

Creating a culture of innovation

Highways for LIFE aims to get things done better, faster, safer, and cheaper. The key to those objectives is creating a culture within the highway community that invites innovative new practices and materials, as well as effective technology transfer and improved ways for getting new technology to state highway agencies and practitioners faster.

SAFETEA-LU funding

The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) provides $75 million in funding for Highways for LIFE—$15 million for fiscal year (FY) 2006 and $20 million per year for FYs 2007-2009. The program includes demonstration construction projects, stakeholder input and involvement, technology transfer, technology partnerships, information dissemination, and monitoring and evaluation.

FHWA announces the first Highways for LIFE projects

“The projects we honor today mark a bold new wave in highway construction aimed at relieving congestion, improving safety, and saving money,” said J. Richard Capka, Federal Highway Administrator. Capka announced the first projects to receive funding under an innovative new highway program called Highways for LIFE. The program focuses on improving highway construction projects through the application of innovative approaches to design and construction.

That announcement was delivered last year, when America celebrated the 50th anniversary of its interstate system, a positive milestone, but one that also points to the age of the U.S. highway system. With pavements typically lasting less than 20 years and bridges around 50, much of the system is in need of repair. But with ever increasing truck and car traffic, taking segments of the system out of service for long periods of time for repair can be costly, dangerous, and can cause even more traffic back-ups.

Highways for LIFE is an initiative of the FHWA authorized by the U.S. Congress aimed at getting innovations and new technologies into standard use faster. Merely because an innovation is found to work doesn’t mean the hundreds of federal, state, and local transportation agencies, as well as contractors, consulting engineers, and academics are going to embrace it. The Highways for LIFE program is creating training programs, sponsoring workshops, and developing communications tools to get those innovations adopted faster.

But perhaps the highest profile technique is the funding of projects that employ such innovations. State transportation agencies submit applications for funding of projects which employ innovations they have rarely used before. This year, 3 projects were selected as meeting the goals of the program. They are:

  • South Carolina DOT, SC-377 Bridge Replacements, Kingstree
  • Minnesota DOT, Highway 36 Reconstruction, Minneapolis/St. Paul
  • Iowa DOT, 24th Street Bridge Improvement, Council Bluffs

These three selected projects set the bar fairly high for the rest of the transportation community. The need for safer, longer-lasting, faster-built highways and bridges will be answered as the rest of the highway community reaches this level of innovation in the development of their Highways for LIFE projects. The immediate benefit will be a construction process that is less intrusive on the driving habits of the motoring public.

More HfL money this year

In 2007, six more states—Arizona, Georgia, Maine, Missouri, Oregon, and Virginia—each received up to $1 million from the U.S. DOT as part of the Highways for LIFE program.

Managed by FHWA, this is the second year it has provided grant money to states to build roads faster, while making them last longer, and less costly to maintain. In addition to direct funding, the program may provide states relief from their state match requirements for the entire project.

“Using new building methods and materials can improve travel, save money, and make our roads safer,” said FHWA Administrator J. Richard Capka.

These states are the first round of 2007 recipients and more states are expected to receive Highways for LIFE grants this year.

Sometimes employing a rarely used innovation can require a bit more effort than going with the standard approach. That’s why FHWA is providing additional funding to help construct at least one project per state.

How can your state DOT participate?


Talk with your FHWA Division

Each division office has a Highways for LIFE coordinator who, with the Division Administrator, can provide help with the process. They are your first line of communication on the program.

FHWA’s Highways for LIFE team in Washington, D.C. can help

If you’ve got a question about a particular technology or want clarification on the application process, contact Mary Huie at 202 366 3039, or:

Be aware of the schedule

Each year, there will be an open season for accepting applications to get projects funded. Applications are being accepted for the FY09 season now; the deadline is Jan. 30, 2008.

Check out the Web site

To get an idea of some of the innovations, applications, and processes that the HfL program is examining, take a look at: It includes descriptions of innovations, successful projects that have used those innovations, and lists of key Highways for LIFE contacts.

Look for more than one innovation

If you read about the first HfL projects, you will see that they all employ several approaches, from innovative materials to construction techniques to management practices.

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