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.
Once the plan was properly communicated, public involvement and awareness of local infrastructure issues increased, says Scott McGolpin, deputy public works director for the county. “Every spring, our staff would gather input by conducting public workshops, processing road repair requests from constituents, and taking input from our superintendents and our board of supervisors. Along with our pavement inspections, this information gave us a well-rounded picture so we could carry out the necessary administration in order to be ready to issue contracts when our fiscal year began.”
With accountability comes confidence, and elected officials and their constituents responded favorably. “Our commitment is to continually make the RdMAP a multistakeholder plan that tells our board of supervisors and the community exactly what we are going to do each year,” says McGolpin. “Since its inception, we have won our board's confidence and the support of the community for this process.”
Another important lesson learned was the need to think “out of the box,” bringing new maintenance strategies to the table due to dwindling funding sources. For preserving its best roads first, this meant exploring a variety of sealers and rejuvenators.
“We realized emulsions technology has progressed to where we could confidently use surface treatments to indefinitely preserve the life of our highest PCI roadways,” says Kevin Donnelly, project manager for the county's transportation division. “Lower costs and lower lifecycle costs satisfy our constituents, help us stretch our limited dollars over more roadways, and meet the budget.”
— Vandermost is a professional writer in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.Surface treatment sticks
Emulsion saves county dollars—and makes sense.
As part of its pavement preservation program, Santa Barbara County selected a rejuvenating fog seal called PASS QB, a polymer-modified emulsion made by Dana Point, Calif.-based Western Emulsions Inc. “PASS QB was not the first product we tried over the years, but it's the first product that has performed up to our expectations,” says Kevin Donnelly, project manager for the county's transportation division.
Most importantly, the county saves approximately 80% of the cost of a slurry seal by performing the fog seal. This approach has allowed for the reallocation of dollars to roadways requiring major rehabilitation. More than two-thirds of the county's roadways are now in the pavement preservation mode, up from 45% in 1999.
The county always is exploring technologies that provide lower cost options to balance ever-escalating oil and paving costs. It initiated a PASS Scrub Seal with a Micro-Surfacing Cap project in 2005 on a series of deteriorated roadways. At $4.62 per square yard, cost savings were realized on roadways that otherwise would have received an overlay at $18 per square yard, pavement recycling at $50 per square yard, or complete reconstruction at $75 per square yard. The total cost of the project was $1 million, paid for by a sales tax approved by voters in 1989.
“In the early 1990s, Santa Barbara County had a chip seal project that didn't go as planned, which scared us out of doing chip seals,” says Scott McGolpin, deputy public works director for the county. “But the performance of the PASS material convinced us to try another chip seal test. It was a tremendous success, and saved the county 75% of the cost of a pavement overlay. Best of all, residents on those streets who were waiting for years for an overlay were very satisfied with the results.
“We also realized that the PASS product saves time and money because our crews don't need to crack-seal in advance of the chip seal application. PASS is designed to seal those cracks at the same time,” says McGolpin. Within two months, the agency repaired approximately 217,000 square yards of deteriorated roadways.