Better Roads Staff
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Oklahoma, where DOT Secretary Gary Ridley is in the fifth year of an aggressive program to restore the integrity of the state’s bridge and road infrastructure after two decades of underinvestment.
When Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry was voted into office in 2002, Oklahoma’s highway system was nearing a crisis point. In addition to problem pavements, the state had a huge backlog of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges. Henry and the Oklahoma legislature dramatically increased state funding for roads and bridges five years ago.
The aggressive state funding has helped offset uncertainties in the flow of federal dollars over that time period, says Ridley. “We have made great progress,” he adds. From January 2006 through December 2009, Oklahoma rehabbed or replaced 407 bridges and will do the same thing with another 100 bridges in 2010.
“We still have a long way to go,” says Ridley. Indeed, the Oklahoma experience underscores how severe an infrastructure deficit can become if not maintained adequately for a long period of time. “We still have a large backlog of deficient bridges and pavements” says Ridley. “In 12 to 14 years, we’ll be in far better shape.”
Oklahoma DOT’s inventory management system has been a huge asset as the state takes on its road problems, says Ridley and chief engineer Gary Evans. In addition to defining system needs and progress, it helps planners ascertain how to get the greatest results from the funds available, both on an annual and longer term basis. “It’s maybe even more critical in financially uncertain times,” says Ridley, “because it helps you avoid making mistakes.”
ODOT maintains an eight-year budget for roads and bridges that includes specific projects for each year. Thanks to aggressive funding and modern management, the agency has an 85 percent completion rate – meaning, 85 percent of the budgeted projects are completed in the year budgeted.
As much as the sciences of road and bridge construction and maintenance have evolved – and with them the sciences of materials, methods and related technologies – the evolution of inventory management systems is the most dramatic hallmark of the early 21st Century in the road industry.
The best of these systems allow managers to harness years of performance data into the almost instantaneous calculation of the most cost-effective priorities for a road system at any given time, and within those priority projects, what applications make the most long-term sense at today’s prices.
Leaders in the field agree with Oklahoma’s Ridley: these systems are never more valuable than when trying to decide how to invest a budget that can’t meet every need.
“It’s like the Emergency Room in a hospital,” says Bemanian. “The heart attack victim gets priority over the person with a bad cold.” The management systems give first priority to maintaining system-wide levels of pavement and bridge conditions, starting with the ones that have the highest traffic loads and volume.
These systems are changing the way roads and bridges are managed and they are unquestionably improving the cost-effectiveness of road management in America. They do not, however, preclude the need for adequate public investment in infrastructure.
These two points were pointedly articulated by Hillsborough County’s Roger Cox in his address to the ARRA faithful when he defined the new paradigm in pavement management.