Convincing transportation agencies, legislators and taxpayers that a "worst first" approach to maintaining the quality and safety of road structures throughout the country proved to be an underlying theme of presentations and discussions at the recent Midwestern Pavement Preservation Partnership conference held in East Lansing, MI. Sponsored by the National Center for Pavement Preservation, MPPP's mission is to provide pavement preservation practitioners (public agencies, contractors, suppliers, academia, local and federal government officials) an ongoing regional forum to publicize and share information that promotes the benefits of pavement preservation. With insufficient funding available to address all infrastructure needs, whether it's new construction or maintaining existing roadways, preservation plays a vital role in not only maintaining the quality and safety of good road structures, but also helps to maximize available funding for maintenance, reconstruction and new construction.
Preservation proponents promote cost-effective solutions, both long- and short-range programs, by providing "the right fix at the right time in the right place."
King W. Gee, associate administrator for the Federal Highway Administration's Infrastructure, told MPPP attendees that managing the nation's 3.9 million miles of roads will require a continued preservation approach. In fact, Gee issued a Preservation Maintenance Eligibility memorandum (Oct. 8, 2004) to all FHWA directors of field services, division administrators and Federal Lands Highway Division engineers stating: "The FHWA supports increased flexibility for using federal-aid funding for cost-effective preventive maintenance." The FHWA recognizes that "timely preventive maintenance and preservation activities are necessary to ensure proper performance of the transportation infrastructure."
The memorandum states: "By using lower-cost system preservation methods, states can improve system conditions, minimize road construction impacts on the traveling public, and better manage their resources needed for long-term improvements, such as reconstruction or expansion. Preventive maintenance offers state DOTs a way of increasing the return on their infrastructure investment."
The American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) defines preventive maintenance "as the planned strategy of cost-effective treatments to an existing roadway system and its appurtenances that preserves the system, retards future deterioration, and maintains or improves the functional condition of the system without increasing the structural capacity."
According to Gee, the system preservation approach is a necessary part of the infrastructure solution because it extends the service life of roadways, maximizing the investment, while buying some time for long-term solutions. He acknowledged Kansas DOT's 20-year preservation approach and how it has improved the quality of roads throughout the state.
A preservation model
Jon Rice, P.E., managing director of Kent County Road Commission (Grand Rapids, MI), presented the approach his agency is taking to implement a preservation program that will eventually achieve higher levels of system conditions by 2015.
The Commission implemented its preservation program for all county roads in 1999. It also implemented a software program to analyze pavement conditions to determine when a preservation approach will provide the most value to the life cycle of a road. With five years of data collection, Rice said that if a road goes from fair condition to very poor condition, it will cost four to five times more to bring that structure back to fair condition.
While Kent County's road maintenance budget has remained constant over the past five years, an increase in preservation funds has been made to eliminate major rehabilitation expenditures. As the Commission evaluates major expansion, construction and reconstruction projects, it also evaluates whether or not adequate investments are being made to preserve the overall system. On an annual basis, it assesses existing and projected conditions of its roadways, and forecasts the system's level impact of alternative investment scenarios.