Survey: ADA Mandate Could Wreak Havoc on Preservation Programs

Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990 (ADA) requires state and local governments to make sure that people with disabilities have access to pedestrian routes in the public right-of-way. An important part of this requirement is the obligation that whenever streets, roadways or highways are altered, curb ramps need to be provided where street level pedestrian walkways cross curbs.

Previously pavement preservation techniques weren’t considered road construction, so typical applications didn’t have to meet ADA requirements. Recently released technical guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) on what pavement preservation treatments may trigger ADA modifications, however, has raised concerns on what the impact may be to local road budgets.

The guidance, released last year, labels some treatments, such as chip seals, slurry seals and fog seals, as routine pavement maintenance, while similar treatments, such as micro-surfacing, are deemed alteration of pavement surfaces. Alterations may trigger additional installations of ramps and other infrastructure to be in compliance with ADA requirements.

A recent survey of local, state and federal agencies, conducted by the Center for Pavement Preservation at California’s Chico State University, found that the technical guidance by the federal government on pavement maintenance activities and ADA accessibility would have a negative impact on road maintenance programs.

The survey, done in cooperation with the Foundation for Pavement Preservation (FP2) and the California Chip Seal Association, was conducted in May, and the results were recently released by the Pavement Preservation Center.

The survey found that 63% of respondents believe the new interpretation of what is considered an alteration versus what is considered maintenance will greatly impact their ability maintain their roads.

Sixty-five percent of respondents said the technical guidance would cause them to defer pavement maintenance projects in their current plan, and 55% said it would increase the cost of maintaining roads by 20-40%, while 34% said the increase would be between 40-60%. Just over 11% said it could increase costs by 60-80%.

Nearly 70% of respondents said the new ADA guidance will cause them to shift away from treatments that have worked well in the past. Unfortunately, this means if the right treatment is perceived to cost too much because of modifications, road agencies will be less likely to use it.

"This recent DOT/DOJ interpretation … threatens to take away several cost-effective maintenance tools for government agencies," says Jim Moulthrop, P.E., FP2 Inc. executive director. "Our experience is showing that the right treatment, for the right road, at the right time, is put at risk by the new ADA guidelines, which can even lead to no treatment... This is counterproductive to road maintenance programs achieving ADA goals, and flies in the face of the pavement preservation language of our federal surface transportation legislation, MAP-21."

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