Viewpoint: Keep a close eye on the streets
Our nation’s communities depend on roadway systems that provide safe, efficient and reliable driving environments. Streets that are not properly maintained can negatively affect a community’s economy and residents’ quality of life, including causing excessive wear and tear on vehicles, crashes and traffic congestion. For those reasons, public works directors should consider reevaluating their pavement management programs to ensure they are best using their resources and addressing their roadway needs.
An effective pavement management plan balances prevention with safety. Safety requires the repair of road pavement deterioration, which can cause accidents or other hazardous situations. Prevention is anticipating when streets pavement will require service and then performing maintenance to avoid having to undertake more extensive and more expensive repairs later.
It may sound counterproductive, but an effective pavement management program will focus on preventive maintenance rather than road repair, because the most effective way to reduce repair costs is to prevent them altogether. As a general rule, cities and counties with successful pavement maintenance programs focus approximately 80 percent of their resources on prevention and 20 percent on repairs. Unfortunately, many communities take the opposite approach, focusing more resources on repairs — and only doing so after streets roads begin suffering from serious issues.
Public works directors should fight the urge to take a short-term approach to maintaining streets roads and implement a 10-year plan that starts with a pavement condition analysis. The pavement condition analysis begins by evaluating the condition of a community’s streets and creating a visual record of them using a bumper-mounted camera that videotapes roadways as engineers or public works representatives drive through a city or town.
After reviewing the data, engineers assign values of deterioration based on a 0 to 100 scale. The scale breaks down like this:
• 80-100: pavement is in excellent condition; no attention necessary.
• 60-80: pavement is in good condition, showing normal wear; no major attention is necessary.
• 40-60: pavement is showing signs of wear; may require rudimentary repairs, such as crack sealing, micro surfacing or chip sealing.
• 20-40: pavement is showing advanced deterioration, repairs may be advisable.
• 0-20: pavement condition is hazardous; repairs are required.
Once values are assigned, they are imported to an asset management database, which is then used to create a risk/benefit assessment that provides a blueprint for saving money. It often makes more sense to postpone repairs to worn pavement until the wear and tear affects the road’s functionality. For example, by ignoring streets roads that have been categorized within the 20 to 40 range on the deterioration scale, public works directors can focus their resources in two other places: conducting rudimentary repairs on streets categorized in the 40 to 60 range, which will keep them from deteriorating further; and implementing major repairs on streets roads that fall in the 0 to 20 range, which may pose safety hazards. That approach minimizes the amount of money spent each year on repairs because it avoids frequent major repairs. It also keeps more roads in service as fewer major repairs are required.
By routinely evaluating pavement conditions on individual streets and tracking their conditions in asset management software, public works directors know where there are current problems and where problems are likely to occur in the future. Implementing an efficient pavement management plan can save communities tens of millions of dollars over the course of a typical 10-year plan. The key is to make decisions strategically, rather than taking a haphazard or instinctual approach. Fortunately, there are numerous tools available that take the guesswork out of the pavement management process.
Dean Groves is president and chief executive officer of Burlington, Mass.-based Fay, Spofford & Thorndike, Inc. (FST). Bill Scarpati is a senior asset management specialist at FST. For more information, visit www.fstinc.com.
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