Better Roads Staff
The new paradigm
How pavement management systems are changing road management
By Kirk Landers
As contractor groups go, the members of the Asphalt Recycling and Reclaiming Association are among the most connected to road agency professionals, especially those at the county and city government level.
But even the ARRA contractors expressed various degrees of amazement as Roger Cox, PE, took the podium of their 2010 Annual Meeting and explained the inner workings of the Hillsborough County (Florida) Transportation Infrastructure Management System.
In his hour-long presentation, Cox showed the group how the Hillsborough County Department of Public Works inspected all segments of its nearly 7,000 lane miles of roads, how each segment’s condition and pavement management history was organized and stored, and the many ways that information is used, from summary reports to graphic representations of various geographic areas.
Cox especially showed how his group used that information to plan projects based on budget and need, how they establish priorities based on long-term goals, how they decide on appropriate treatments based on lifecycle costs and long-term system goals, and how they evaluate the performance of the treatments they select. And he showed how the department used this information to maintain the entire system at Pavement Condition Index levels above 55 (on the 100-point PCI scale).
For the contractors in Cox’s audience, his presentation was a vision of where pavement management is heading at all levels of government, and it was impressive.
“A complete inventory of roads, a full assessment of pavement health, that’s the only way,” said Cox. “We organize them into primary, secondary and tertiary roads, then define the pavement’s health, section by section, and overall.”
Roger Cox, PE
A decade ago, many agencies were just discovering that prevention is a better investment priority than “worst-first” in pavement management strategy. Today, agencies with advanced management approaches employ system-wide tactics to achieve and sustain optimum pavement conditions and maximize the impact of every dollar spent.
For contractors calling on people like Cox, the advancement in management sophistication changes the conversation. If you are selling hot-in-place recycling, for example, Hillsborough’s pavement professionals already have experience with the technology, including a track record of how long it lasts and how well it wears in different applications. Your conversation is about your current costs and what you can do to change the HIR lifecycle metrics. As an HIR contractor, you are competing with all the other disciplines they can employ for the same job — and the metrics focus on lifecycle costs, not initial cost.
While Cox and Hillsborough County are at the forefront of this new paradigm in pavement management, virtually all road agencies at all levels of government are heading in the same direction, and have been since the advent of GASB 34 – Government Accounting Standards Board statement 34. This seemingly innocuous rule that went into effect for different levels of government from 2001 through 2003 mandated that state and local governments have to report the value of their infrastructure assets annually on an accrual accounting basis.
To comply, agencies have to regularly inspect pavement conditions, and depreciate the value of aging pavements in the same way aging machinery is depreciated.
The standard passed quietly into law in 1999 after more than a decade of discussion. Though little was written or said about it, a few industry leaders grasped its potential to change the way roads are managed in America. Tom Maze, former director of the Center for Transportation Research and Education at Iowa State University, was one. Writing in the January-February 2000 issue of ISU’s Technology News, Maze said GASB 34 “has the potential to make agencies’ overall financial condition more transparent to the public, investors, creditors and the agencies themselves.
“Ultimately,” he added, “the new standards may encourage better stewardship of public resources . . . By reporting the value of public assets over time, governmental agencies will make their improvements – or lack of improvements – in public assets more apparent.”
Maze’s assessment seems to be coming true. The process, and the numbers it produces, makes it easier for agencies to communicate with elected officials and citizens about the road needs and priorities. And it has already dramatically changed how roads are managed, particularly among the early adaptors like the Hillsborough County Public Works Department.
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