IRF Student Essay Competition

The IRF Student Essay Competition is an annual contest held to recognize promising road research. This competition is open to all students attending an IRF Member university in good standing, as well as IRF Fellows currently enrolled as full time students. At the judges’ discretion, a maximum of three winning essays will receive a US $500 cash award. Additionally, the winning essays will be published in the IRF Examiner, a freely available periodical journal featuring peer-reviewed technical papers by leading industry professionals. The categories and related topics for the competition are developed based on input from IRF Members regarding their research needs. Participants may choose any topic within any category for their essays, or professors may wish to limit the topics based on their particular curriculum.

2015 Winners

Winner: Jill Provost Asphalt Concrete Used to Combat Climate Change

Runner up: Eleftheria Kontou Rethinking Fuel Tax in the Age of Increased Fuel Economy

Runner up: Jelena Karapetrovic Enhancement Of Current Anticorruption Practices To Improve Traffic Safety

Runner up: Alan Ruck Public Private Partnerships in Highway Construction

Runner up: Brent Allman Cost Effective Designs To Improve Highway Safety

2014 Winners

Mathew Volovski Funding for Highway Asset Construction and Maintenance: Sustainable Alternatives to the Traditional Gas Tax

Bradley Winkelbauer The Killer Tree Problem

Davis Chacon-Hurtado Integrated Traffic-Ticketing Management System

Previous Winners

Innovative Finance

Yijing Lu University of Maryland, College Park Implementing Marginal-Cost Vehicle Mileage Fees on the Maryland Statewide Road Network

Intelligent Transportation Systems

Chenfeng Xiong University of Maryland College Park Professor: Lei Zhang On En-Route Diversion Behavior: Emerging Data Collection Techniques & Modeling Method

Sustainable Roads

Daniel Mogrovejo Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Professor: Dr Gerardo Flintsch Effect of Air Temperature and Vehicle Speed on Tire / Pavement Noise Measured with On-Board Sound Intensity

Essay Topics

  • The concept of Road Safety Audits is becoming more popular in many countries and it is very likely that Road Safety Audits will become mandatory in the future. Some countries and states are accrediting auditors in their own jurisdictions. What guidelines are being used to define an accredited Road Safety Auditor Team Leader in countries around the world? What guidelines should be used to qualify Road Safety Audit Team Leaders?
  • Rigorous enforcement of traffic safety laws is one required component to change behavior, but police corruption can defeat the whole effort. What is being done to eliminate traffic police corruption in both developed and developing countries? What is working and what is not working, and what steps must be taken to reduce traffic police corruption?
  • Design of rural and urban roads contributes a lot towards safety of users. Identify some low-cost solutions that could be incorporated into the design of rural and urban roads to reduce the number and severity of accidents that occur on them. These solutions must be practical and easy to use by road agencies.
  • Advanced Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V), Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I), and Vehicle-to-Pedestrian (V2P) communications are being considered to improve road safety for motorists and nearby vulnerable user. Using one of the three V2X focus areas noted above identify future technologies that could significantly decrease the number of fatal and serious injury vehicle crashes in urban areas. Discuss the specific type and number of potential crashes that could be benefited and steps to develop and implement technologies.
  • Define the benefits of urban traffic surveillance: Is it worth the cost? Identify the different stakeholder groups that will be involved in planning and implementing a traffic surveillance scheme and the different challenges these groups will face. What recommendations will you make so as to harness the useful benefits of such a scheme?
  • Using a real-life scenario, describe the benefits that can be derived from possessing an efficient asset management culture for highway infrastructure. How are individual components of the management system integrated to meet desired performance indicators?
  • Why is there a need to incorporate asset management during initial planning and design phase of highway infrastructure. What are some of the factors why such discussion is avoided? How can stakeholders be convinced of its significance?
  • Pavement/bridge management systems make long-term maintenance decisions about when and how to plan maintenance interventions based on empirical data collected in the field and then forecasting past performance to predict future outcomes. There are some infrastructure managers who also believe that “they know their network best and a computer program cannot make better decisions.” There is some truth to this, which can lead to a heuristic-style approach for long term maintenance decision making. Discuss in which situations (if any) a heuristic approach is more appropriate than and an empirical data approach. Make sure to contrast both approaches even in circumstances where high quality data for sufficient years is readily available for historical trending. Are there other, more suitable, approaches to decision making?
  • With climate change comes the potential of extreme weather events. Describe various ways asphaltic concrete could be used for road surfacing in extreme weather conditions: identify possible successes and failures of each initiative.
  • Recommend cost-effective innovative materials for sealing unpaved roads. Using a case study perform a comparative analysis for alternative paving materials for unpaved roads.
  • With long term improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency, what options other than a gas tax should be considered to adequately provide for highway asset construction and maintenance?
  • Governments around the world are turning to Public-Private Partnerships (PPP’s) as one solution to the challenge of funding road infrastructure. Provide an example of a PPP arrangement in a developed or developing country and what factors led to its success or failure? What lessons can be learned from this experience?

Judging Criteria & Awards

Essays will be evaluated by a panel of experts from the road industry according to the criteria and point system outlined below.

  • Comprehension: How well does the essay reflect a thorough understanding of the topic?
  • Organization: Does the essay follow a logical and easily understood progression?
  • Creativity: Were diverse resources and ideas used to develop the topic?
  • Applicability: Can the proposed solution(s) be applied feasibly?
  • Conclusions: Do the conclusions follow logically from the argument? Are the conclusions compelling?

5 Points – Essay met the criteria very well 4 Points – Essay mostly met the criteria 3 Points – Essay adequately met the criteria 2 Points – Essay only met the criteria a few times 1 Point –   Essay never met the criteria

Submission Specifications

All essays should be submitted in English using Times New Roman (size 12) font with double spacing. Essays must be a minimum of 1,500 words and a maximum of 2,500 words. Essays that do not follow the above-mentioned specifications WILL NOT be considered.

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