Pavement Management is a good topic for discussion because, like the weather, everyone has experience with it. We all know of a street so full of potholes that it is seemingly always under construction. What many people are not aware of is the incredible amount of effort and resources it takes to maintain a network of streets, sidewalks, and right-of-way assets. These assets are valued in the millions of dollars and are utilized by thousands of commuters, pedestrians, tourists, and industry workers every day.
Public works professionals who are responsible for pavement management commonly define it this way:
Pavement Management is the process of planning, budgeting, designing, evaluating, and rehabilitating a pavement network to provide maximum benefit with available funds.
Public Safety and Financial Benefits
Good pavement management practice focuses on two important factors; safety and fiscal responsibility. The first and most obvious reason to invest in pavement management is public safety. By identifying where sidewalks and roads have begun to fail, municipalities can act quickly and responsibly to address areas of potential concern, and improve public safety within the community. The second focus, fiscal responsibility, acknowledges that the local municipality is a steward of taxpayer-funded assets, and to best serve their constitutes they want to get the most value out of each tax dollar spent on maintaining the asset.
A healthy pavement network provides a myriad of benefits to a municipality. In addition to enhanced public safety, better roads encourage industrial development, creating jobs and opportunities within the community. Improving roads and sidewalks has also been demonstrated to enhance overall quality-of-life factors within a community. Better sidewalks and roads mean greater social mobility, especially in low-income communities, where a larger percentage of a citizen’s total earnings are spent on travel-related expenses. Want to encourage citizens to lead a healthy and active lifestyle? Try improving their access to public recreational areas by enhancing the sidewalk network or bike lanes.
Who is Involved in Pavement Management
The public works department in a municipality is responsible for allocating funds and scheduling repairs. They typically have a network-wide overview of the pavements that they manage, and rely on citizen input or outside contractors that survey the network to understand the needs of the community. It is common for municipalities to hold city council meetings as frequently as once a month where vocal citizens can make sure the city hears their needs. Is your neighborhood full of potholes and cracked asphalt? Show up. Make your case. This is what the meetings are for, and council members will thank you for your engagement. After all, it is our tax money at work.
One other group that certainly deserves mentioning in this process is local construction contractors. Even smaller public works agencies are routinely looking to spend up to a million dollars or more on pavement construction/repair projects each year. That means jobs. Much of the funding for pavement management goes directly to the pockets of your friends and neighbors in the construction industry. It is reliable work since pavement requires constant upkeep. Every year, hundreds of thousands of construction professionals across America earn a living maintaining the public assets that we use each day.
Why This and not That
Some distressed roads need to be fixed right away, some don’t. Pavement management involves prioritizing projects with limited rehabilitation dollars. How do public works professionals make these decisions? Objectively. In pavement management, road segments are assigned a score depending on their overall quality; this is known as a PCI or Pavement Condition Index. Depending on the PCI score of a street, professionals will use pavement management software to recommend suggested rehab treatments and factor in the average cost. Pavement management software is important because most agencies can’t prioritize repairs without a clear understanding of their overall network, and the costs of repairing one segment of road over another.
A successful pavement management program develops an accurate performance model of a roadway, and then identifies the optimal timing and rehabilitation strategy for its needs. The benefits of this exercise are long-term cost savings and an increase in pavement quality over time. Ultimately, better bang for your buck.
The city managers have a responsibility to maintain taxpayer-funded assets and keep records of their efforts. This provision is known as GASB 34, and it is a financial accountability standard issued by the Government Accounting Standards Board in the United States. In 1999, when GASB 34 was published, the GASB Chairman lauded the effort as, “The most significant change to occur in the history of government financial reporting.” And given the sheer value of pavement assets and the number of people they impact, we at IMS tend to agree. Become involved, and make sure you know how your tax dollars are being spent. Accountability is a responsibility for us all, and the only viable path forward for a system designed by and for the people.