WHAT IS AN EXPERIMENTAL FEATURE?
As defined in the Federal-Aid Highway Program Manual (Vol. 6-4-2-4), an Experimental Feature Project is a federal-aid highway construction project incorporating one or more Experimental Features. Generally, an Experimental Feature is defined as a material, process, method, equipment item, traffic operational device, or other feature which: (1) has not yet been sufficiently tested under actual field and operational conditions to merit acceptance without reservations in normal highway construction; or (2) has been accepted, but needs to be compared with alternative acceptable features to determine relative merits and cost effectiveness. One or both of these criteria serve as the basis for whether or not the Experimental Feature is justified for inclusion into the ongoing States program, and can gain federal approval.
Construction Memorandum No. 00-2 “Construction Projects Incorporating Experimental Features” (Appendix 10A) provides additional information.
OBJECTIVES OF EXPERIMENTAL FEATURE PROGRAM
The objectives of the Federal Experimental Feature Program are: (1) to actively encourage state highway agencies to evaluate new or innovative technology, or alternatives to standard technology, under actual construction and operating conditions; and (2) to provide a mechanism for the widespread dissemination and application of the results of these evaluations.
HOW TO INITIATE AN EXPERIMENTAL FEATURE
An Experimental Feature may be initiated by a District, Central Office, or Local Agency. Experimental Features are generally included and approved in a project, before the project is advertised for bids. For an Experimental Feature to be authorized or approved for inclusion in a federal-aid project, an Experimental Feature Work Plan must be prepared and submitted to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) for approval. The Work Plan shall be submitted through the Central Bureau of Materials (CBM) prior to the submission of the Preliminary Studies and Engineering (PS&E). CBM will then forward the Work Plan to the FHWA with a formal request for approval of the Experimental Feature. The CBM acts as liaison in submitting Experimental Features, and insuring uniformity in reporting to FHWA. The submitting agency is responsible for meeting work and reporting requirements in the Work Plan. Existing policy permits the inclusion of Experimental Features in construction projects which are already in progress, by submitting a change order. In such cases, the preparation of an Experimental Feature Work Plan, as outlined below, will be required and must be submitted to the CBM for forwarding to FHWA.
REQUIRED WORK PLAN
The Work Plan shall contain or reflect the following significant items:
A control section shall be provided in all approved Experimental Feature Projects, unless the nature of the experiment is such that a control section would serve no purpose.
Although assistance during the preparation of the Work Plan is available from the CBM, the responsibility of preparing the Work Plan, conducting the inspections, and writing the final report is with the initiating Bureau, District, or Local Agency.
CHANGES TO INITIAL WORK PLAN
Because even small changes in an Experimental Feature can jeopardize valid research results; all changes involving Experimental Features in a project must have prior FHWA approval, regardless of whether they are major or minor changes. The request for the change should state clearly what effect the proposed change is expected to have on the research, and be submitted to the CBM.
APPROVAL SUBMITTAL TO FHWA
The CBM's Engineer of Technical and Products Studies will submit all required correspondence to FHWA. Appendix 10B is an example submittal letter containing the required information. It should be noted, that three copies of the Work Plan and any associated material; such as, plan sheets, section maps, special provision, etc. should be enclosed. Also note, the District who initiated the project or the District where the project is located is to be sent copies. A copy is also sent to the Project Development and Implementation Section Chief, in the Bureau of Design and Environment.
FHWA FORM 1461 REPORTING
The initiating agency is responsible for completing the initial and final Forms 1461. The annual update is the responsibility of the District, Bureau, or Local Agency monitoring the project. All Form 1461 submittals to the FHWA are the responsibility of CBM’s Engineer of Technical and Product Studies.
The field testing and evaluation can range from very simple to complex, depending on the Experimental Feature and what exactly is being evaluated. A one-page Final Report may be sufficient for a simple item; such as, a bridge expansion joint. A more complex Experimental Feature; such as, an open-graded drainage base may require a more substantial report.
The Final Report should include or refer to the Work Plan, be specific as to the performance of the product, the ease of construction, and recommended use or non-use of the Experimental Feature.
The Final Report should be sent to CBM's Engineer of Technical and Products Studies, who will review it prior to submittal to the FHWA.