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Pavement Management for Cities and Counties

Smaller road networks can benefit from proactive strategies.

For years, state and national transportation agencies have had to manage their roads and meet legislative requirements for performance standards. However, smaller agencies—such as cities and counties—have not had to meet those same requirements. As a result, cities and counties have generally been slower to implement modern strategies for their road networks.

In this post, I’ll draw on lessons learned from my 20 years of experience helping to manage the largest state-owned road network in the United States. I’ll explain what modern pavement management is and outline four key steps that cities and counties can take to apply these practices to ensure safer, longer-lasting roadways and better use of public funds.

What is Modern Pavement Management?

The best way to understand modern pavement management is by comparing it to traditional approaches. In traditional pavement management, the agency focuses on a few “bad” projects and repairs the “worst” pavements first. This usually involves costly rehabilitation and replacement projects that use up the available funding very fast. While this approach may allow the agency to satisfy a few constituents and meet some short-term goals, it doesn’t produce the best return on investment because it doesn’t properly manage the road network as a whole.

By contrast, a modern pavement management strategy focuses on the performance of the entire road network—not just a few crumbling pavements. The modern approach aims to meet short- as well as long-term goals by selecting and funding the pavement projects that will bring the most benefits in terms of roadway safety and longevity across the entire jurisdiction—city, county, or any other geographic region—while making the optimal use of available funds.

The traditional approach is reactive, focusing on fixing what is already in very bad repair. The modern approach is proactive, focusing on preserving pavement assets that are still in good condition in order to maintain a target level of performance over time.

The modern approach also seeks to use funding consistently to achieve the best and broadest long-term impact through predictable budgeting and funding allocation, rather than following a “feast or famine” cycle of spending and depleting the budget.

In short, modern pavement management is a more holistic approach that lets agencies deliver safer, longer-lasting pavements while saving money in the near term and into the future.

4 Steps of Modern Pavement Management

Here are the four main steps in a modern pavement management strategy and how they can benefit your city or county.

1. Describe Pavement Condition and Trends

The first key step to modern pavement management is to describe the pavement condition—both now and over time. In order to begin this process, you will need to start collecting pavement data. (If you’ve never systematically collected data on your pavements, that’s OK. You can always start now.)

It’s important to try to ensure the highest quality of your collected data. Make sure the data collection equipment is properly calibrated and certified. Likewise, the operators performing the data collection need to be specially trained and certified.

Pavement condition data can be divided into three groups.

a) Distress data

Distress data describes the condition of the pavement surface. That includes cracking, rutting, potholes, failures, and so on.

One way to collect distress data is to perform a visual rating by training field staff members to evaluate pavements based on visual observations, then capture those ratings consistently.

Another way to collect distress data is through automated data collection using vans with 3D cameras and lasers. The vans collect roadway images that are then analyzed to determine distress types.

If you are considering implementing automated data collection for your agency, keep in mind that you don’t need to buy the equipment to do it. You can contact a service provider who can collect and analyze the data for you.

b) Surface characteristics

In addition to distress data, you’ll also want to collect data on surface characteristics, which describe how smooth or rough the road is, as well as how much texture it has, or how much skid or friction it has.

c) Structural capacity

You’ll also want to gather data on structural capacity, which is how strong the road or pavement is and how much load it can carry.

Dashboards quickly allow you identify trends and answer key questions about your pavement network.

Your collected data will be translated into pavement scores that describe the various road conditions—from very poor to very good. For example, condition score is a function of both the distress score and the ride score (the perceived smoothness of the ride while driving on the pavement). You can use condition data to quickly identify trends and answer key questions about your pavement network.

2. Locate Problem Areas / Identify Problem Types

The second key step in modern pavement management is locating problem areas and pinpointing the types of problems. The best way to accomplish this is by generating maps and displaying graphs that show the road condition

GIS maps can give you a wealth of information. A one-page GIS map can show you the condition of every road in a county in half-mile increments. You can even tell which roads are performing well and which are not—just by looking at the map.

GIS maps can be used to display the condition of every roadway segment in the network

Graphs, such as a “graph down the road,” allow you to see the condition of the road in a longitudinal direction. A graph showing the International Roughness Index, or IRI, is an example of a visualization you can use to see where spot level-ups may be needed. You can also generate graphs to isolate the areas of the pavement that have rutting or cracking.

A graph down the road shows the International Roughness Index (IRI) of the road in a longitudinal direction.
3. Estimate Pavement Management & Rehabilitation Needs

The third key step in pavement management is to estimate which pavement preservation or rehabilitation projects you will need to implement to meet the agency’s goals. Depending on your agency, you probably have specific performance measures that you need to achieve. It may be an average pavement performance score or a certain percentage above a performance threshold.

No matter the goal, having enough money to fix the road and meet those performance measures will always be a challenge. Your agency needs to decide what the top priority work projects are, and when the best time to do those projects is to get the best value from your available funds.

modern pavement management system can help you provide the right answers to questions that help you assess the adequacy of your overall funding. The system can help you determine how much funding you need—and since you already know your available funds, the system can help you determine the funding gap. You can use this information to predict the future condition of your network.

4. Develop Work Plans

The fourth key step in modern pavement management is to develop work plans to implement your selected projects based on your available budget.

First, you’ll need to define the objective. For example, do you want to minimize rutting or cracking? Or do you need to improve ride quality? Or do you want to maximize the overall roadway performance?

Next, you’ll need to define your constraints. A primary constraint is always the budget. A second constraint might be the minimum roadway performance you want to achieve, and a third constraint might be the minimum percentage of your road network that must achieve that level of performance.

Next, you’ll want to define the time period for your pavement plan. You can develop a 2-year, 4-year, or 5-year plan—or a plan for any length of time you choose.

Your pavement management team will then perform the analysis and recommend a work plan for maintenance and rehabilitation.

Finally, field validations or evaluations are very important in work planning. You will need to look at factors that will affect the location of the work and that may alter traffic patterns. You may have to tweak the work plan a few times before settling on a final plan of action.

Better Strategies Save Money

Agencies around the world use these modern pavement management practices to improve safety, road performance, and return on investment of pavement projects. Cities and counties can apply these same practices to save time, save money, and save lives.

Learn more

For a more in-depth discussion, view our webinar, Modern Pavement Management Practices for Cities and Counties. You can also find more about pavement management strategies by exploring Trimble AgileAssets. solutions.

About the Author

Magdy Mikhail, PhD, PE, retired as Director of Pavement Asset Management after 20 years at Texas Department of Transportation to join AgileAssets at Director of Transportation Industry Solutions. A nationally recognized pavement management expert, he chairs the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Standing Committee on Surface Properties and Vehicle Interaction and is a member of TRB’s Standing Committee on Pavement Management Systems.