When involved in federal regulatory and safety policy, you get used to reading or, in some cases, just scanning “Notices” and “Requests for Information” published by federal agencies announcing this or that, or seeking information for far-off potential rules, etc. This process, while important, becomes routine and, at times, boring. Not often does a Notice catch our attention at STC and make us say, “We should shout this one from the rooftop.’  That happened on June 13, 2023, when the U.S. Department of Transportation published a unique Notice announcing its new “Advanced Research Projects Agency – Infrastructure (ARPA-I),” a newly established US DOT agency authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

This new USDOT agency is modeled after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) within the U.S. Department of Defense and is designed to “support the development of science and technology solutions that overcomes long-term challenges and advances the state of the art for United States transportation infrastructure.” At its core ARPA-I will be a research and development funding office focused on “developing and implementing technologies rather than policies or processes…” It’s ARPA-I’s technology focus, as well as its near-term deployment approach that has STC excited! ARPA-I’s stated goal is to fund R&D efforts that have a “…clear pathway to commercialization and widespread cross-modal deployment within 5-10 years.”

With its Notice, the USDOT is genuinely seeking information from researchers, industry innovators, and others on “new and emerging areas of innovation…” that it should consider for its significant R&D dollars. USDOT and ARPA-I listed the following six areas for potential R&D funding (emphasis added): (1) Safety; (2) Advanced Construction Materials and Methods; (3) Digital Infrastructure; (4) Freight and Logistics Optimization; (5) Climate and Resilience; (6) Other Areas in Transportation Infrastructure. The trucking and intermodal freight industries, and others, have been provided a great opportunity to think about, identify and communicate new and emerging technologies to USDOT that ARPA-I could contemplate funding to make a real difference and help keep our industry and our infrastructure globally competitive.

The USDOT described ARPA-I as a “…once-in-a-generation opportunity.” And STC agrees. What are your ideas on ways ARPA-I can use science and technology to improve safety and freight transportation? It’s our time to speak up.