Feature Story

Better Roads Staff | August 1, 2010

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.

Building a System

“It has taken 10 years to get this far,” Roger Cox told Better Roads. He started building the county’s pavement database in 2002 and they have maintained it ever since.

“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.”

In determining budget priorities, Cox says the first question is, “Where does the system have pain?” The next step is to determine the best treatment for each problem. Hillsborough’s sophisticated management system lets the department project the consequences of each treatment choice – not only for the specific project, but also for the overall system.

System consequences are always important in this new management paradigm, and acutely so in times of lean budgets.

Hillsborough County’s Fiscal Year 2010 road budget is half the previous year’s spending level, partly because a special program is winding down and partly due to sagging real estate tax revenues. The resulting strategy from the Public Works department is to focus on the most important roads.

“The arterials have a different, more rapid deterioration rate than local roads because they carry more traffic,” explains Cox. Financial models demand that these pavements get timely interventions; if they slide into a condition that requires expensive rehabilitation, the whole system suffers.

“Secondary roads deteriorate at a slower rate,” says Cox. “We can use low-cost treatments like crack sealing and pothole patching to maintain these pavements at a satisfactory level when dollars are tight.”

What about complaints from citizens?

“Complaints and politics are a fact of life,” says Cox. “But the system lets us show people that their street is on our radar and waiting for its logical turn. People are pretty understanding when they see we know what we’re doing and that we are aware of them.”

State Agencies

In 1997, some four years before GASB 34 began phasing in, the Nevada Department of Transportation implemented one of the nation’s most effective pavement management systems.

Sohila Bemanian, then a principle pavement engineer with NDOT and a primary architect of the system, called it a pavement management system based on financial consequences.

That is the other reality of today’s sophisticated pavement management systems: while they stretch the tax dollar further than ever before, if the state or city or county fails to provide sufficient funds, the management system can’t save pavements — it can only chronicle the demise.

With Nevada experiencing extraordinary population growth, the DOT’s budget priority was expanding system capacity with new construction, while maintenance for 13,000 miles of existing pavement was given a lower priority. As a result, the state was spending too little on maintenance and too much on expensive rehabilitation and rebuilding.

Bemanian, now a pavement design and lifecycle cost specialist at Parsons Transportation Group, wanted to create a system for managing Nevada’s highway assets the way a business manager like Warren Buffett would. She and NDOT Materials Division staff ended up with a system very similar to the one Hillsborough County would develop years later. NDOT’s Materials Division staff developed a database that included the inventory of the entire system and established basic performance models for each highway classification and treatment.

The performance models show that a timely intervention is cheaper than waiting to act until a pavement descends into rebuild condition.

In a paper published in a 2005 edition of Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, Bemanian et. al. wrote, “The rehabilitation cost for a 10-mile section of Interstate will cost $4 million at the optimum time for treatment versus $10 million at the failure point (2 to 3 years between optimum and failure points) for a cost difference of $6 million.”

Substantiated by NDOT’s own data, this and many other examples of the economic importance of timely preventive maintenance convinced the DOT to give budget priority to maintenance, and to the concept of managing the system proactively rather than reactively.

System management for NDOT means prioritizing the heaviest used roads in times of financial duress, just like it does for Hillsborough County and any other sophisticated pavement management agency. Again, Bemanian’s cost metrics:

“The rehabilitation cost for a 10-mile section on a lower-volume road is $1.3 million at the optimum time and $2.5 million at the failure point (4 to 6 years between optimum and failure points) for a cost difference of $1.2 million. Therefore, the Interstate project has the highest financial consequences if work is not performed earlier rather than later.”

This strategy is being widely applied across the country. In Illinois, IDOT’s Division 1 encompasses the greater Chicago metropolitan area and some of the country’s heaviest travelled Interstates. Program development manager John Fortmann told Better Roads that the Division has always had enough state funds to get their full federal match, and that they strive to keep 90 percent of their Interstate pavement in good/excellent condition by putting most of the budget in prevention.

Division 1 has been helped by the state’s multi-year road/bridge program, a recent investment that followed several years of state-wide underinvestment in roads and bridges.

While Division 1 has enjoyed funding priority to avoid the negative consequences of late intervention on such heavily travelled roads, there has been limited funding for other system needs, such as capacity expansion, modernization, or rebuilding the roadway system.

That is the other reality of today’s sophisticated pavement management systems: while they stretch the tax dollar further than ever before, if the state or city or county fails to provide sufficient funds, the management system can’t save pavements – it can only chronicle the demise.

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.

 

Pavement Triage

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.

“Pavement management is the process of overseeing the maintenance and repair of a network of roadways at or above established values, within budget constraints, while meeting customer expectations,” said Cox.

“This is ideally accomplished,” he added, “by doing more with less, until you can do everything with nothing.”v

DIGITAL EXTRA

WAIT! There’s more on this. To read Developing a

Management System Based on Financial Consequence and The Other Side of Pavement Triage, see our DIGITAL EDITION (at www.BetterRoads.com) – page 15a.

 

Developing a Management System Based on Financial Consequences

In their 2005 paper, Pavement Management System Based on Financial Consequences, Sohila Bemanian, Patty Polish and Gayle Maurer outlined eight steps an agency can take to create the system they developed for the Nevada DOT in 1997, years before most road agencies began pursuing such systems.

Below are the eight points listed by the authors, and a condensed explanation for each.

1.  Obtain administrative support.

2.  Develop a contract database.

Includes route and milepost information, route description, last contract and award date, and the repair or rehabilitation strategy employed. Supplement with IRI data, traffic data, pavement condition survey data, friction measurements, pavement rehabilitation history, and maintenance work information.

3.  Divide roadway system into categories.

Create prioritization categories based on traffic volume, loading, and highway classification.

4.  Establish performance models for each roadway category and treatment.

Determine the average life expectancy between rehabilitation treatments for each pavement category. By using the average rehabilitation life expectancy based on a pavement condition index, an estimated time for optimum rehab treatment can be realized for each category.

5.  Prioritize projects on basis of highest financial consequences.

Calculate the cost of rehabilitation at the optimum time versus complete reconstruction for each pavement category. The projects with the largest cost differential between rehab and reconstruction should get priority.

6.  Select strategies based on lifecycle cost, not initial cost.

Example: a simple 2-inch overlay of badly cracked pavement may cost 20 percent less than a cold-in-place recycling treatment and overlay, but the latter will perform at satisfactory levels for more years, making it the more cost effective choice.

7.  Use cost-effective rehabilitation strategies, optimize mix designs, and require good construction practices.

By using a pavement condition survey to determine the mode of pavement failure, an agency can improve its specifications to enhance performance.

8.  Develop a preventive maintenance program that is in alignment with the project prioritization process.

Prevention tactics vary according to pavement category. For example, chip seals and crack sealing may be appropriate for rural roads, but not for high-load/high volume Interstates.

Adapted from “Pavement Management System Based on Financial Consequence,” by Sohila Bemanian, Patty Polish, and Gayle Maurer. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board, No. 1940, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, DC, 2005, pp. 32-37.

The Other Side of Pavement Triage

Pavement professionals prefer to think of triage as a set of priorities: the most important roads are taken care of first, the least important, last. But the idea is, all pavements get treated in due course.

In an emergency medical setting — say, in the wake of a large natural disaster or a bloody battle in a war zone — the dark side of triage is the sacrifice of a patient who is too far gone to save, or whose life can only be saved at the expense of several other lives. Can that happen in a road management program?

Yes, if road funding stays low enough, long enough. But among the agencies contacted for this report, that time is not imminent.

Like most road agencies, Battle Creek, Michigan, has seen a steady erosion in road funding since the early 2000s, and, like most road managers, Chris Dopp, city engineer, has responded by putting more of his budget into prevention.

“We started passing over total reconstructions because they consume so much money,” Dopp told Better Roads. “It just made sense to focus on treating the good pavements at the right time with preventive maintenance.”

Passing over pavements that have exceeded their design lives and need rebuilding is not ideal, but Dopp points out that continued decline does not add to the future cost of rebuilding them. The strategy then becomes one of keeping them safe.

This point was also made by Murl Sebring, PE, a retired regional operations engineer for New York State DOT. Writing in response to a Better Roads column on the subject of sacrificial roads, Sebring pointed out that a poor pavement can be kept safe in an economical manner. “Road safety should be a priority and can be accomplished,” wrote Sebring. “ Smoothness is relative and with quality repairs and timely fixes, even the worst road can be made safely drivable.”

Like most road managers, Dopp’s current strategies run toward stretching his maintenance funds until a stronger economy can begin generating more substantial budgets. “We’re using microseals as an alternative to overlays,” he said. “We’re also using hot-in-place recycling and more chip seals than in the past. The chip seals don’t have the lifecycle of traditional treatments, but they preserve the integrity of the road and we can afford them. It’s like, if your house needs new siding but you can’t afford it, you paint it.”

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