Contractors Get Federal Guidance on the Interpretation of ADA

The new policy offers clarification for roadway specifiers and asphalt and concrete contractors on ADA curb ramp requirements

Ada Sidewalk Curb Ramp 11181820
International Grooving And Grinding Association Logo 60103d7eabd6e[1]

The federal government recently issued a new policy clarifying Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) curb ramp requirements for pavement alterations. As a major industry resource on pavement rehabilitation and restoration, the non-profit trade association International Grooving & Grinding Association (IGGA) released guidance on this new information.

ADA is a complex document which continues to be revisited by the federal government for the purpose of updating and revising its regulations. One aspect of the ADA that is often enforced inconsistently is the requirement, set forth in Title II, to provide curb ramps when streets, roads or highways are altered through resurfacing. Stakeholders of individual road repair projects often misinterpret what constitutes "alteration" for the purposes of the ADA, and are therefore unclear regarding when curb ramps do or do not need to be constructed.

In March 2012 and March 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) Joint Technical Assistance met for the purpose of clarifying this topic, with the goal of enabling more uniform understanding and enforcement of the requirement. The outcome of the sessions, according to a DOT briefing memo, was “a single federal policy that identifies specific asphalt and concrete-pavement repair treatments that are considered to be alterations — requiring installation of curb ramps within the scope of the project — and those that are considered to be maintenance, which do not require curb ramps at the time of the improvement.”

This development of a single federal policy should greatly assist local governments and contractors in ascertaining a project’s scope and determining the need for inclusion of a curb ramp.

Clarification on when to install a curb ramp

Examples of roadway maintenance for ADA purposes (those which do not require the installation of a curb ramp) include the following:

  • Crack filling and sealing
  • Joint repairs
  • Dowel bar retrofit
  • Spot high-friction treatments
  • Undersealing
  • Diamond grinding
  • Pavement patching

Examples of roadway alterations for ADA purposes (those which do require the installation of a curb ramp) include the following:

  • Open graded surface course
  • Cape seals
  • Mill & fill/mill & overlay
  • Hot in-place recycling
  • Microsurfacing/thin lift overlay
  • Addition of new layer of asphalt
  • Asphalt and concrete rehabilitation and reconstruction
  • New construction


It is the expectation of the DOJ and FHWA that transportation divisions will confer with their state or partnering agency and establish plans to implement this single federal policy “as soon as [is] practical,” according to the briefing memo. Currently there is no set deadline for overall compliance with the new guideline, but it is expected that divisions will evaluate their existing project load and make sure they are in compliance. Projects that are ready for construction advertisement or are under contract are exempt from this expectation and may proceed as planned. Divisions should also work with their state or partnering agency to ensure that their written policies on resurfacing are aligned with the new guidelines.

Adoption of the new federal policy should further the goal of providing full and safe access to transportation systems for pedestrians with disabilities, while helping the public entities responsible for road repair more accurately plan their projects.