1937: An Important Highway Research Program Begins in Indiana

March 11, 1937

The Indiana state legislature passed a measure authorizing the Indiana State Highway Commission to work with Purdue University on methods to further improve and better maintain highways throughout the Hoosier State. (The Indiana State Highway Commission, which was established in 1917, remained in existence until being replaced by the Indiana Department of Highways [IDOH] in 1981; IDOH, in turn, became part of the present-day Indiana Department of Transportation [INDOT] in 1989.)

The 1937 law marked the launch of a collaborative effort between state highway officials and Purdue University that was first known as the Joint Highway Research Project (JHRP). This law specifically allowed the Indiana State Highway Commission to provide funds for Purdue University to spend on highway research. These funds could also be used for an annual road school at Purdue University; this yearly conference, focusing on Indiana’s highway priorities, had been inaugurated in 1914.

JHRP’s initial studies in 1937 dealt with evaluating the impact of weather on stabilized materials used for a test road. The following year, a second test road was built for JHRP studies examining the performance of stabilized mixes as both a surface course and a base course when subjected to the effects of weather as well as traffic. Other studies undertaken by JHRP during its first several years of operation included research on the durability of aggregates; soil compactions; bituminous mixtures; pavement costs; and traffic volumes. Starting in the first several years after the end of World War II, the scope and significance of JHRP grew even more with the production of technical reports on a regular basis.

By the 50th anniversary of JHRP in 1987, this collaborative research venture had initiated a total of 839 studies conducted by more than 500 individuals (both students and faculty) at Purdue University. Harold L. Michael, director of JHRP and head of Purdue University’s school of engineering, highlighted these accomplishments and others in an address that he gave on March 11, 1987. “Obviously I cannot here detail the results of these studies nor attempt to summarize in a few moments even the important results,” said Michael. “I am confident, however, that anyone who reviews only a representative sample of the findings will be impressed with the value of the results to the State of Indiana, to the nation, and yes even to other nations.”

Michael also took time during his remarks for the golden anniversary to underscore IDOH’s involvement in JHRP. He called JHRP “a model of how a state university can cooperate with a highway agency to perform needed research at the least cost.” Michael then said, “It has helped the IDOH to maintain a relatively small research and development staff while receiving benefits from a wide range of research through university participation. Many states and foreign countries have used the JHRP framework as a model for their highway research activities.”

A decade after that anniversary commemoration, JHRP was renamed the Joint Transportation Research Program (JTRP) to better reflect increased efforts not only in Indiana but nationwide in assessing and enhancing the operations of various transportation modes rather than just highways.

For more information on the Joint Transportation Research Program (originally known as the Joint Highway Research Project) in Indiana, please check out https://docs.lib.purdue.edu/jtrprogram/.

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