Planning a paving program is especially daunting if streets havee been neglected for some time. If not done properly, your department could be sidetracked or, worse, subject to the whims of officials and residents who demand streets be paved based on purely subjective criteria.

If done correctly, however, the plan will provide the tools necessary to develop and budget for a long-term capital improvement program. It will objectively evaluate the condition of the pavement for each street, prioritize the need for action, and, finally, recommend a design approach.


The first step is to establish objective criteria for evaluating existing conditions. Because each street must be visited and evaluated using the same criteria, the criteria should be simple to understand and easy to implement. Use a simple scale of 1 to 5 for the initial evaluation.

  • Typical conditions of Priority 1 streets are needed pothole repairs on most of the roadway, severe cracking, severe segregation (separation of stone from asphaltic binder), and utility trench repairs that have damaged most of the pavement and made the riding surface extremely poor.
  • Typical conditions of Priority 2 streets include needed pothole repairs on significant portions, severe cracking, and utility trench repairs that have damaged large areas of the pavement and made the riding surface poor.
  • Typical conditions of Priority 3 streets include sporadic needed pothole repairs, , severe cracking, , and utility trench repairs that have damaged small percentages of the pavement but haven't significantly impacted the riding surface.
  • Typical conditions of Priority 4 streets include minor cracking with good overall riding surfaces.
  • Generally, Priority 5 streets have been recently constructed or repaved within the last five to 10 years and are in good to very good condition.

    Once the initial evaluation phase is complete, an engineering evaluation should be conducted for all Priority 1, 2, and 3 streets. Realize that one-size-fits-all solutions won't work. Repair options include complete full-depth reconstruction, full- or partial-depth milling and overlay, spot repairs and partial pavement milling and overlay, or simply crack sealing.

    However, don't forget Priority 4 and 5 streets because they still may require maintenance; evaluate them annually.

    Subbase soils may have a major impact on the final design. Those that drain well are more likely to provide stable base and may be candidates for a full- or partial-depth mill and overlay, while streets with low-permeability soils are more likely to require subbase preparation and a thicker pavement profile to prevent failures from recurring within a reasonable pavement lifespan.

    While not always required, soil borings and a full pavement design should be considered before embarking on a road program.


    While it may be desirable to pave all Priority 1 streets in the first year, it's usually cost-prohibitive.

    An annual budget of $250,000 to $500,000 is ideal, but $150,000 to $300,000 will enable many streets to receive at least some treatment. After several years of an aggressive repair program, an annual maintenance budget of $150,000 to $200,000 will suffice to keep streets in decent shape.

    There are several ways to fund a capital road program. Grants may be available from the Federal Highway Administration or state transportation departments. Typical funding for municipal roadway reconstruction grants as administered by the New Jersey DOT, for example, is $180,000/year. A city may also self-fund the program by issuing bonds or using capital funds from the city's budget. Coupled with grant monies, municipal funds can be stretched to allow for a substantial program.

    Stretch your design budget to get as much paving done at one time as possible. This doesn't just save money: The more streets that receive new paving, the happier residents will be.

    Even if the budget allows for only one or two streets to be addressed, include more streets in the bid using alternative bids. This way, if market prices are favorable and excess funds are available, you can award some of the alternatives without having to rebid. As a cautionary note, if funding is to be provided through a bond ordinance or through state or federal grants, the language in the approving documents must be general enough to allow the excess funds to be used for the alternative bids.


    Because reconstruction disrupts the motoring public, conduct paving operations from June through August, when there's less traffic in general and no school buses to contend with. As a general rule, projects should begin after May 1 and finish before Thanksgiving.

    Paving can be done in spring or late fall, but there are serious challenges when paving too early or too late in the year, especially in the northern states.

    Spring — especially March and April — tends to be rainy, disrupting the construction schedule and affecting the quality of the finished product. If the road gets saturated after it's been milled, the subbase may become soft and the contractor will seek a change order for additional undercutting.

    Late fall brings more wet weather, as well as overnight freeze/thaw conditions and community leaf pickup schedules to work around.

    Make sure your design professional has enough time to design the plans and prepare the necessary bid documents long before the construction season begins. A notice to proceed with design is best given in the fall so that plans and specifications can be ready to advertise in January or February.

    Contractors who begin lining up work early in the year tend to be more aggressive with their pricing, so the earlier the job is bid, the more likely you'll be to receive better pricing. Advertising a paving project in late summer can prove disastrous from both a scheduling and a budgetary standpoint.


    Remember to consult local public contracting laws for mandatory requirements before advertising. Complying with some local bid laws can be tricky.

    In New Jersey, for example, bids must be advertised in the official newspaper of the city at least 10 days before bid opening, and can't be received on Mondays or the day after a state or federal holiday. Other rules include ensuring that all contractors are notified and acknowledging receipt of any contract addenda at least seven days before the bid opening, excluding weekends and holidays.

    The bid document itself must include a checklist to be endorsed by the contractor indicating all required items, including a bid guarantee, a surety certificate, a statement of ownership, and a business registration certificate, have been supplied. A one-year maintenance bond is also required.

    Always check references before engaging the contractor. If you have doubts, bring the contractor in for an interview and ask how the task will be accomplished. The local public contract laws will provide more guidance on this issue.


    Public input and notifying residents about potential interruptions, preferably weekly through oral and written notices, goes a long way toward minimizing complaints.

    As the project progresses, monitor the contractor's work and requests for payment to ensure payments keep pace with actual construction. The best way to accomplish this is by measuring the “in place” material quantities before each request for payment. Carefully monitoring monthly payment requests and material quantities reduces the likelihood of costly overruns or unexpected change orders.

    Once construction is substantially complete, generate a “punch list” of incomplete items and allow the contractor time to correct minor defects. Don't make the final payment until they're all completed to your satisfaction.

    — Hugh Dougherty, PE, C.M.E., is an associate vice president with Pennoni Associates Inc. He's been with the firm for 24 years and also has served as municipal engineer in 14 cities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

    Overlay approach

    Before dispatching field personnel for an initial site visit, arm them with a checklist of observations and measurements to record for future use.

  • Right-of-way width
  • Street width
  • Sidewalk width
  • Length of street (in feet)
  • Existing surface type (concrete, asphalt, or gravel)
  • Base type (if known)
  • Curb type (concrete, asphalt, stone, or wood)
  • Approximate measurements can be obtained in the field or by using online aerial photography and online scale functions such as Google Earth.