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The finished product is a combination of a PASS CR scrub seal, which acts as a stress-absorbing membrane, and a micro-surface placed on top. Photo: Santa Barbara County Public Works, Transportation Division
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PASS CR is being applied and scrubbed into the road surface with a scrub broom that is specifically designed for this process. Photo: Santa Barbara County Public Works, Transportation Division

Worst first. Not a great place to start, but that's how Santa Barbara County, Calif., was handling its roads.

“Many agencies, including ours, were accustomed to a ‘worst first' approach to prioritizing reconstruction work,” says Phillip Demery, director of public works for Santa Barbara County. “This approach was clearly not working as the system degradation and associated costs were growing exponentially.”

In the days when state gas tax revenues were adequate to subsidize road repair and construction, it was commonplace to defer roadway repair until it was time for complete reconstruction. State policies changed drastically in the 1980s and '90s, however.

The county was fortunate that its voters in 1989 approved a local ballot measure increasing its sales tax by a half-cent, with those incremental funds earmarked for transportation improvements.

“The local funds from Measure D allowed us to develop a program for surface-treating our roads,” says Demery. “By the 1990s, however, those treatments had shown deterioration and needed additional attention. Our team then developed a plan to maintain the system on a preventive basis.”

Pavement preservation and pavement asset management are among the hottest trends for local agencies in California, a result of declines in state infrastructure spending and tax revenues returned to local governments during the past 15 years. Agencies meeting the challenge to maintain infrastructure with uncertain funding sources are doing so through political savvy, superior public outreach skills, sound analysis and planning tools, and creative new road maintenance technologies.

Santa Barbara County is one such agency, now reaping the rewards (and awards) from a pavement preservation program it launched six years ago. Its network of 1667 lane miles of asphalt roads connects 2738 square miles of picturesque seaside towns, resort and tourist spots, residential and business districts, and rustic wine country.

A STRATEGIC PLAN

In 1999, county transportation officials unveiled the Road Maintenance Annual Plan, or RdMAP, a comprehensive analysis and maintenance plan to prevent widespread deterioration of its roadway infrastructure. The plan was created from a state-of-the-art inventory of its roadways, assessing the pavement condition (pavement condition index, or PCI) from 100 to 0, best to worst, with the help of a computerized pavement management system (PMS) developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

MicroPAVER, the latest version of this management system, provides full compliance for GASB 34. Combined with a geographic information system (GIS), the department can plan, maintain, and analyze the county's pavement network. GIS, in conjunction with the PMS, allows the county to evaluate inventory, select the roadway that needs treatment, forecast budgets, and communicate plans and infrastructure needs to its residents and decision-makers.

The county's plan introduced a strategy to prioritize funding to protect its best quality roadways first, while failing roads are prioritized for rehabilitation using remaining funding.

The public works department anticipated the need to over-communicate this new operational strategy to elected officials and constituents. “The real key to our success was turning the RdMAP into an educational document,” says Demery.