Federal Highway Administration logo
|Formed||April 1, 1967|
|Jurisdiction||Federal government of the United States|
|Parent agency||Department of Transportation|
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is a division of the United States Department of Transportation that specializes in highway transportation. The agency's major activities are grouped into two "programs," the Federal-aid Highway Program and the Federal Lands Highway Program. Its role had previously been performed by the Office of Road Inquiry, Office of Public Roads and the Bureau of Public Roads.
The organization has several predecessor organizations and a complicated history.
The Office of Road Inquiry (ORI) was founded in 1893. In 1905 that organization's name was changed to the Office of Public Roads (OPR) which became a division of the United States Department of Agriculture. The name was changed again to the Bureau of Public Roads in 1915 and to the Public Roads Administration (PRA) in 1939. It was then shifted to the Federal Works Agency which was abolished in 1949 when its name reverted to Bureau of Public Roads under the Department of Commerce.
With the coming of the bicycle in the 1890s, interest grew regarding the improvement of streets and roads in America. The traditional method of putting the burden on maintaining roads on local landowners was increasingly inadequate. New York State took the lead in 1898, and by 1916 the old system had been discarded everywhere area. Demands grew for local and state government to take charge. With the coming of the automobile after 1910, urgent efforts were made to upgrade and modernize dirt roads designed for horse-drawn wagon traffic. The American Association for Highway Improvement was organized in 1910. Funding came from automobile registration, and taxes on motor fuels, as well as state aid. In 1916, federal-aid was first made available to improve post-roads, and promote general commerce. Congress appropriated $75 million over a five-year period, with the Secretary of Agriculture in charge through the Bureau of Public Roads, in cooperation with the state highway departments. There were 2.4 million miles of rural dirt rural roads in 1914; 100,000 miles had been improved with grading and gravel, and 3000 miles were given high quality surfacing. The rapidly increasing speed of automobiles, and especially trucks, made maintenance and repair high-priority item. Concrete was first used in 1893, and expanded until it became the dominant surfacing material in the 1930s.
Federal aid began in 1917. From 1917 through 1941, 261,000 miles of highways were built with federal aid, and cost $5.31 billion. Federal funds totaled $3.17 billion, and state-local funds were $2.14 billion.
The FHWA was created on October 15, 1966.
In 1967 the functions of the Bureau of Public Roads were transferred to the new organization.
The FHWA's role in the Federal-aid Highway Program is to oversee federal funds used for constructing and maintaining the National Highway System (primarily Interstate Highways, U.S. Routes and most State Routes). This funding mostly comes from the federal gasoline tax and mostly goes to state departments of transportation. FHWA oversees projects using these funds to ensure that federal requirements for project eligibility, contract administration and construction standards are adhered to.
Under the Federal Lands Highway Program (sometimes called "direct fed"), the FHWA provides highway design and construction services for various federal land-management agencies, such as the Forest Service and the National Park Service.
In addition to these programs, the FHWA performs and sponsors research in the areas of roadway safety, congestion, highway materials and construction methods, and provides funding to local technical assistance program centers to disseminate research results to local highway agencies.
The FHWA also publishes the "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices" (MUTCD), which is used by most highway agencies in the United States. The MUTCD specifies such things as the size, color and height of traffic signs, traffic signals and road surface markings.
The Federal Highway Administration is overseen by an Administrator appointed by the President of the United States by and with the consent of the United States Senate. The Administrator works under the direction of the Secretary of Transportation and Deputy Secretary of Transportation. The internal organization of the FHWA is as follows:
Long-Term Pavement Performance (LTPP) is a program supported by FHWA to collect and analyse road data. The LTPP program was initiated by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Research Council (NRC) in the early 1980s. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) with the cooperation of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) sponsored the program. As a result of this program, FHWA has collected a huge database of road performance. FHWA and ASCE hold an annual contest known as LTPP International Data Analysis Contest, which is based on challenging researchers to answer a question based on the LTPP data.