Chapter 3 - Program Development: National
3.4 Transportation Pooled Studies
Multiple parties (e.g.: federal, state, regional, or local transportation agencies, academic institutions, foundations, private industry) may have a common interest in solving a transportation related problem. If so, a pooled fund study may be used to jointly fund research, planning, and technology innovation activities. Federal, state, and local transportation agencies may initiate pooled fund studies and private industry, foundations and colleges/universities may then partner with the sponsoring agencies in the projects.
There are three categories of participants in pooled fund studies: (1) lead agency, (2) participating agencies, and (3) research teams. The lead agency (typically FHWA, TRB, or a state DOT) for a pooled fund study is the organization that conducts or contracts for the research and performs the administrative functions of the study. Generally, the lead agency takes the initiative in developing the problem statement, soliciting for interest from other agencies, and obtaining FHWA approval of the study. Participating agencies provide technical and financial assistance to the study. Depending upon the structure established by the lead agency, participating agencies may be offered a chance to provide input into the development of the scope of work and selection of the researcher. At least one agency must commit to participate in order for a project to be considered a pooled fund study. Research teams are the groups conducting the actual scope of work.
ODOT may choose to be the lead agency or a participating agency. Based on ODOT’s intended level of involvement, the processing and managing of pooled fund studies differs.
3.4.1 – PROCEDURES WHEN OHIO IS THE LEAD AGENCY
If ODOT elects to be the lead agency for a pooled fund study, it is because the topic is of significant importance to the agency. Pooled fund studies require additional administrative and technical organizational efforts beyond that of a standard research project. SMEs that are considering requesting a pooled fund study are encouraged to discuss the option with IRIS in advance to pursuing the study to ensure they fully understand the responsibilities they will have as the lead technical contact for a multi-state study. The following outlines the general flow of establishing a pooled fund study that is lead by ODOT:
Problem Statement Development: After discussing the project concept and pooled fund study process with IRIS and obtaining approval from their Office Administrator and Deputy Director, SMEs develop a problem statement for the proposed pooled fund study. The standard format for research problem statements (see Figure 2) is used for pooled fund studies. While the problem statement is being developed, SMEs are encouraged to contact their colleagues in other state DOTs to garner interest and identify potential partners in the study. Making these preliminary contacts with potential partnering states is a critical step in the development of a pooled fund study. Failure to secure sufficient partners and funding for a pooled fund study will result in the project being cancelled. SMEs may include partnering agencies in the development of the problem statement as they deem appropriate.
During the review of problem statements received in response to IRIS’s annual internal solicitation for research ideas (see Section 4.1.1), IRIS may identify a submission as a good candidate for a pooled fund study. In this case, IRIS will discuss the possibility with the sponsoring program office. Based on the discussion, the project may be modified into a pooled fund study or proceed as a standard research project.
Solicitation/Commitment of Partners: Once the problem statement is finalized, IRIS will forward the statement to FHWA with a request to declare the project eligible for 100% SP&R federal funding. Upon determining the study eligibility, the problem statement is posted on the transportation pooled fund (TPF) website. The TPF website is managed by FHWA and is used to track participation and financial contributions in pooled fund studies nationwide. Included on the website are proposed, active, and completed pooled fund studies. The posting of a pooled fund study will activate the AASHTO RAC listserv with an alert that a new project is available for review. State DOTs indicate their support of the study on the TFP website by committing funds to the proposed project. The commitment will indicate if the amount will be provided as a lump sum in one fiscal year or if will be divided up over multiple fiscal years. IRIS will monitor the TPF website to ensure that the project is moved into the next phase of development once sufficient contributions have been made or cancelled if there is not enough support.
The solicitation time on the TPF website is not expected to exceed one year. Projects may be posted at any time during the calendar year.
Contracting/Project Management: Once a study has received sufficient partners and funding, IRIS will request FHWA to assign the project a transportation pooled fund study number. At this time, IRIS may move forward with securing and contracting with a research agency to conduct the study. Participating states may be involved with the review of proposals and make recommendations for researcher selection as appropriate.
As the lead state, IRIS will provide letters to each participating state requesting that they obligate funds for the study per their commitment on the TPF website. Obligation of funds for pooled fund studies occurs on a fiscal year basis through a state-to-state transfer which is managed between the partnering state, IRIS, and ODOT’s Office of Project Accounting. IRIS will provide subsequent requests for state-to-state transfers each fiscal year until all committed funding is received.
The project management process of pooled fund studies in which Ohio is the lead agency is essentially the same as a standard ODOT research project. Increased responsibilities include, but are not limited to, ensuring that participating agencies are: (1) kept up-to-date on the projects’ progress, (2) included in the review of project documents and reports, (3) consulted on significant modifications to the contract such as scope of work and funding increases, and (4) provided copies of project deliverables as specified in the contract. These additional duties are shared between the ODOT SME and IRIS. The SME is primarily responsible for coordinating with partnering agencies concerning all technical aspects of the study. IRIS is responsible for coordinating the financial commitments of the partnering agencies and contractual obligations of the researcher. For details on the management of projects, refer to Chapter 5.
3.4.2 – PROCEDURES WHEN OHIO IS NOT THE LEAD AGENCY
Notification that proposed pooled funds studies are available for consideration on the TPF website may occur at any time throughout the year. In order to accommodate for participation in these studies, IRIS will set aside a specific amount of funds in the research budget for pooled fund study participation each fiscal year. IRIS coordinates these solicitations with the various program offices throughout ODOT to determine if there is interest in participating in the study. Items that should be considered when reviewing solicitations include the potential benefits to ODOT and the availability of the SME to actively participate as ODOT’s technical representative on the project.
If there is sufficient interest and time commitment from a program office, the SME should obtain concurrence from his/her Office Administrator and Deputy Director and forward it to IRIS with a recommendation to participate. The SME should also indicate the amount of funding he/she recommends ODOT contribute to the study.
Upon receipt of these documents, IRIS will indicate Ohio’s participation in the study on the TPF website. The entry will specify the amount of funds ODOT plans to contribute per fiscal year as well the names of the technical and administrative contacts.
The lead agency will notify ODOT when the project begins. IRIS will respond to requests to contribute funds through state-to-state transfers as appropriate. SMEs are expected to be actively engaged throughout the duration of study to ensure ODOT is benefiting from our financial contribution. Coordination of SMEs involvement may be enacted by the lead agency; however, SME are expected to be proactive and engage the technical contacts at the lead agency to make certain ODOT’s interests are appropriately represented and promised deliverables are provided. All pooled fund studies, including those in which ODOT is participating, will be evaluated for potential implementation. For more information on implementation, see Chapter 6.