In Noticias

The first sentence of the first report to be published with funding from the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) will not be found in an NCHRP report. Thomas D. Larson, only a year after completing his Ph.D., led a group of young engineers at The Pennsylvania State University, including Philip Cady, M. Franzen, and Joseph Reed, in producing what was only supposed to be an interim report for NCHRP. Instead, their work was honored with publication as the Highway Research Board’s 80th Special Report.

Tilton E. Shelburne, the first and longtime head of research at the Virginia Department of Highways, chaired the advisory committee for NCHRP 4-3: Development of Methods to Identify Aggregate Particles Which Undergo Destructive Volume Changes When Frozen in Concrete, and E. A. Whitehurst, University of Tennessee, chaired its Panel on Beneficiation of Aggregates. They were so impressed with the interim report from Larson’s team, they did not want to wait until the final report for publication.

NCHRP was not ready to publish yet, so the Board’s Special Report series stepped in. In addition to a 41-page annotated bibliography, Special Report 80 covers the history and current theory of freezing-and-thawing effects, summarizes methods to identify frost-susceptible aggregates, and recommends areas for research.

Larson was at the beginning of a relationship with TRB that would last more than 4 decades. After founding the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute at Penn State, he was tapped by Pennsylvania Governor Richard Thornburgh to be secretary of transportation, a position he filled from 1979 to 1987. He served as Transportation Research Board (TRB) chair in 1981 and chaired the steering committee for America’s Highways: Accelerating the Search for Innovation (Special Report 202, 1984), the report that lay the groundwork for the first Strategic Highway Research Program.

Larson went on to serve as the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials president (1986) and as federal highway administrator (1989–1993) in the Department of Transportation, where he played a significant role in shaping and then implementing the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (1991).

Larson stayed connected to TRB well into his retirement. Forty years after HRB published Special Report 80, Larson shared his favorite model for successful leadership and management in an essay in TR News. His final sentence: “Has there ever been a time when these were needed more?”

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