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Credit: Hiuling Chow

Far left: A well-built and -maintained road lasts longer and can cost far less over time than a neglected one. Left: Fresh asphalt awaits traffic in the Marietta Street Streetscape Improvements project in Powder Springs, Ga.

At the same time, detailed onsite assessments and a related ratings system based on condition “snapshots” informed by acquired road-building experience can have a powerful influence on planning outcomes. In addition to immediately calling up a set of appropriate maintenance strategies, an assessment-based condition ratings system also can help inform an entire sequence of considerations, including treatment decisions, performance forecasting, and long-range project prioritization.

Once a roadway system has been thoroughly inspected and condition ratings have been produced for each section of roadway based on that collection of data, those ratings are combined with cost estimates in an overall budget to determine the sequence and extent of various actions required to bring the pavement back into good serviceable condition.

For example, in the Southeast, alligator cracking generally has a moisture-related cause. The condition rating for pavement with alligator cracking usually is weighted more heavily toward extensive rehabilitation to help ensure it won't simply be earmarked for a quick pave-over. In some cases, this assessment process also may trigger a determination between maintaining the roadway internally and filing a request for outside funding on more extensive projects. The overall costs for achieving this level of analysis are relatively small, including off-the-shelf or modified software, data-collection activities, hardware, hardware maintenance, and administrative expenses.

For a county with an annual budget between $5 million and $6 million a year, for example, total costs for an annual three-month inspection period, database maintenance, and administrative processing may range from as little as $200,000 a year to as much as $500,000.

USING A DATABASE AS A TOOL

The ratings/cost-estimate process also produces a pavement performance forecast, allowing for long-range financial planning and project prioritization. The detailed description of condition, action required, and cost estimate can be used as the basis for funding assistance applications. The same data also can serve as the basis for the preparation, assignment, and administration of repair contracts, and monthly status reports on all work being done.

Ultimately, the PLCM process becomes a method for not only managing roadway surfaces, but an effective method for maximizing the capital investment represented in the entire roadway system. The same kind of management process eventually can be extended to more efficiently manage bridges and culverts, bus stops, signage and traffic signals, landscaping, storm drains, and other roadway-associated assets.

Roadway managers need to think of their PLCM program in the same way a car-owner would consider a program of regular oil changes. Why pay an exorbitant sum to reconstruct a roadway (or buy a new car) when, upon closer inspection and a good PLCM program, just a fraction of that cost could be spent on a comprehensive rehabilitation program (fixing the old car)?

— Josh E. Rowan, P.E., CCM, is a program manager with the construction services division of PBS&J, Atlanta.