How artificial intelligence helps smaller municipalities manage road maintenance
It’s no secret that America’s roads are in a bad state. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ (ASCE) infrastructure report card, our country’s roads currently sit on a flat D. Since 97 percent of road operation and maintenance falls onto the shoulders of local and state governments, they have to work independently to develop and finance their own pavement management plans.
The road assessment process is time-consuming, expensive, and subject to human error. The ASCE recommends governments to prioritize maintenance to maximize the lifespan of roads and to consider other ways of funding beyond motor taxes. Without a proper pavement management plan, municipalities risk falling behind on repairs.
RoadBotics, an infrastructure technology company, uses artificial intelligence to solve these issues. Bigger cities like Savannah and Detroit have found road assessments useful for receiving a comprehensive assessment of their entire community, with images of every 10 feet of their road network. The assessments have been particularly helpful for smaller municipalities as well, as theses assessments are often quicker and allow for data-driven decisions to budget more efficiently.
Updating Road Maintenance
Located about 20 miles east from Pittsburgh, the township of North Huntingdon started using AI-based road assessments back in 2017. In the past, when the township saw the need for a road assessment, the Associate Planning Director, Ryan Fonzi, would drive around the 160-mile network, visually assess the pavement conditions, and record the scores into their GIS software.
Once the inspection scores were uploaded, Ryan created a map with road conditions, which helped the management and engineers make paving decisions using data. The entire process, however, took roughly 6 months to complete due to weather and limited resources.
In 2016, when North Huntingdon was falling behind its pavement management system and was seeking a faster road survey option to help plan its 5-year program. With RoadBotics, North Huntingdon received a complete assessment in one month.
Reactive maintenance —fixing the worst roads first—makes it difficult for communities to create a definitive budget. Breaking that cycle is more possible now with technology like artificial intelligence. By conducting objective road assessments, governments can plan and predict the amount of money they will need to repair failing roads and prevent further degradation on mid-level roads. In North Huntingdon’s case, they were able to use that data to project specific numbers and increase their budget to $1.2 million.
Their engineers spent less time out in the field and could get right to making plans for repairs. “It was huge for time-saving and cost-saving as far as labor costs,” explained Ryan.
It’s okay to be skeptical of emerging technologies, but smaller towns shouldn’t write them off entirely. There are a lot of high-tech products emerging, making it harder to determine what’s flashy and what’s necessary. Not every town needs every solution there is — but every town needs safe roads.