The Research Programs conducts research to discover, develop, or extend knowledge needed to operate, maintain, and improve the statewide multimodal transportation system. The incorporation of experimental features into construction and maintenance projects allows for a vital field evaluation of new materials, processes, and methods for determining the implementation value based on constructability, cost effectiveness and performance.

An Experimental Feature is any material, process, method, innovative highway technology or alternative standard technology that needs to be evaluated, because it has not been tested sufficiently under actual service conditions to merit acceptance or has been accepted and needs to be compared with alternative acceptable features to determine relative merit and cost effectiveness.

Research staff involvement should begin at the earliest discussion of incorporating an experimental feature into an existing or upcoming project. The Experimental Project Manager (ExPM) will attend all meetings and assist in the design of the experimental project, including controls, as appropriate. If requested, the ExPM can query other state DOT’s and Canadian Provinces on their experience with the selected feature or search research databases, such as Transportation Research International Database (TRID) and Research in Progress (RIP), to provide additional information.

The ExPM will write a work plan for MDT and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) staff review. This also informs FHWA staff of the Department’s intent. The document includes:

  • Location and extent of the project;
  • Project type;
  • Principal investigator;
  • Technical Contact;
  • Statement of objectives;
  • Experimental design;
  • Estimated quantities and costs; and
  • Evaluation method(s) and schedule.

This work plan formalizes the experimental project and provides the following benefits:

  • Proprietary products or processes can be specified outside of the Public Interest Finding process.
  • Total construction costs attributable to experimental features may be financed with the appropriate class of federal-aid funds. Please Note: These funds come from the same source as are used for the construction of the rest of the project. There are no additional funds, unless funds are received through another source.
  • If an experimental feature should fail prematurely, total construction costs attributable to the removal, repair and/or reconstruction of an experimental feature may be financed with the appropriate class of federal-aid funds.

The "Experimental Features" line in Preliminary Field Report (PFR), Scope of Work (SOW) and Plan In Hand (PIH) reports (similar to ITS considerations) should indicate an experimental feature is being considered. If the experimental feature extends beyond the normal right-of-way (ROW) the appropriate design manager will need to be notified to insure the proper easement or permitting.

The ExPM will monitor and document construction of each experimental feature in a construction report; documentation includes the following:

  • Statement of objectives;
  • Summary of materials and detailed documentation of construction/installation procedures;
  • Quantity and cost of experimental feature(s) and control(s);
  • Construction problems, how they were dealt with, and a statement of how these problems might have been alleviated or how they may affect the efficacy of the feature; and
  • Timelines of construction/installation.

Once the project is in place, the ExPM conducts at least annual site visits, depending on the experimental feature, to document performance, as detailed in the work plan. The results of these site visits are appended to the construction report; with overall performance documented in the final project report. Each project has a dedicated webpage which contains all project information.

For more information, please contact MDT Research.