The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is a division of the United States Department of Transportation that specializes in highway transportation. The agency’s major activities are grouped into two “programs,” the Federal-aid Highway Program and the Federal Lands Highway Program. Its role had previously been performed by the Office of Road Inquiry, Office of Public Roads and the Bureau of Public Roads.
The FHWA’s role in the Federal-aid Highway Program is to oversee federal funds used for constructing and maintaining the National Highway System (primarily Interstate Highways, U.S. Routes and most State Routes). This funding mostly comes from the federal gasoline tax and mostly goes to state departments of transportation. FHWA oversees projects using these funds to ensure that federal requirements for project eligibility, contract administration and construction standards are adhered to.
Under the Federal Lands Highway Program (sometimes called “direct fed”), the FHWA provides highway design and construction services for various federal land-management agencies, such as the Forest Service and the National Park Service.
In addition to these programs, the FHWA performs and sponsors research in the areas of roadway safety, congestion, highway materials and construction methods, and provides funding to local technical assistance program centers to disseminate research results to local highway agencies.
The FHWA also publishes the “Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices” (MUTCD), which is used by most highway agencies in the United States. The MUTCD specifies such things as the size, color and height of traffic signs, traffic signals and road surface markings.