Air Quality Research Plans: Defining, Mapping, Executing, and Validating

Focus Area

Air Quality


Air Quality






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

Successful research efforts require identifying all of the
conditions and unknowns surrounding the area of interest and then defining
them. This requires developing a plan for conducting research which identifies
the key topics areas of uncertainty and a process for executing the research.
In the areas of transportation related air quality research, the key topic
areas that must be part of any research plan include monitoring,
characterization, sources, analysis and forecasting through models, mitigation
or control strategies, and the polices that impact these areas. State DOTs and
agencies working to improve transportation related air pollution can further
efforts to improve air quality by developing a research agenda that covers the
key topic areas and linkages between research projects and research topic
areas. This is especially important as transportation projects increasingly are
scrutinized by project sponsors, environmental organizations and the public.


Expeditiously finding the answers to the unknowns and their
relationship to the overall air quality problem requires developing a “road
map” or “work plan” guiding the research effort. This road map might be
modified or take detours on it path to completion, but the research plan must
identify and define the major facets of transportation-air quality issues to
provide the solutions that both researchers and practitioners need solutions
for. The research work plan needs to be structured to define the projects and
topics needed to be conducted, the priority of each project, time needed to
complete individual projects, the sequence for conducting the different
projects (sequential, concurrent/parallel, or random ), the costs associated
with each project and the potential source of those funds, and the agency
leading the effort.


Finally, an area often overlooked is the “accountability” of the
research findings. Accountability may not be required or necessary for every
individual research project but it is appropriate for certain projects or at
interim stages of sequential or concurrent projects. Accountability could be
achieved by implementing a project to test the validity of the research finding
by some organization such as a DOT or MPO. This “result-test” could be
considered a “performance measure” for that topic of research. This process
could be applied to a number of research projects with a goal of implementing
the findings to test the research projects success.

Urgency and Payoff

State DOTs and other agencies working on transportation-related air quality issues
are under financial and environmental constraints more than any other time in
history. A research plan would eliminate continual requests for research
“ideas” with no understanding of what research had already been conducted and
what linkage previous research had to future needs. Although a research plan
could be amended at any time, having a planning document is a valuable resource
to serve as a guide for what topics have been studied and what topics still
need further study. Ultimately, a research plan can provide a defendable
strategy for helping to reduce the impact of transportation-related air quality
problems and issues. 

Suggested By

Kevin Black FHWA Resource Center 410-962-2177

[email protected]