A lot of the focus around pavement management deals with building a defensible plan for scheduling your planned work. The idea of a “Defensible” plan may mean different things to different people, but to us it means building a foundation based on pavement management best practices and data driven decisions. With the economic effects from the Covid-19 virus pandemic still crippling local government budgets across the country, now more than ever it is important to have a data-driven plan to defend the use of tax dollars.
Sound PMP Logic = Defensibility
Remain data driven even if your management funds have been cut. It is more important than ever when dealing with a tight budget. Setting up the logic and parameters within your pavement management program is one of the most important steps towards achieving this goal. Focus on prioritization. Have a conversation with your team to help determine what prioritization strategy is best for the local conditions that you face. What has worked in the past may not be what is best for the present.
Make sure your prioritization has a focus on cost of deferral. This, in effect, is a cost benefit analysis on the deferral of streets. You know you cannot fix every road in the network, so focus on the ones that are close to falling into a more expensive rehab group. One of the best ways to determine which roads will deteriorate the quickest is to perform deflection testing, or focus on LADD (Load Associated Distress Deducts). Roads with higher concentrations of load associated distresses will deteriorate much quicker and may need to be prioritized higher.
Another great way to limit the amount of work your agency is considering in any given year is to pay attention to ‘critical” or “need year” selections. Roads in these groups have been determined by the factors mentioned above to be at risk of falling into a more expensive rehab category if left alone for another year. Deferral of roads in their need year will just mean that in the years to come, more and more expensive rehab options will be required to return the road to full service. If your agency is facing budget constraints and is looking to limit the number of rehab projects in the next few years, one of the very best ways is to focus primarily on projects in that are in their “need year”.
Pivoting on Project Sizes
A great way to reduce expenses on pavement maintenance is to simply do smaller projects. The Neighborhood approach is certainly spatially efficient, but this is at the cost of optimizing rehab selections and performing non-critical work. A community may prefer an entire neighborhood to be rehabilitated at one time, but when funds are tight, non-critical work should be delayed.
The Block-to-block project selection scheme is another, common, yet extremely inefficient rehab plan. This approach presents the complete opposite problem from the neighborhood approach in that project selections are scattered and, often, extremely small. The rehab map will end up looking like a shotgun blast of scattered rehab selections and mobilization cost will take a serious bite out of the limited rehabilitation funds.
The “onstreet” and “onstreet/side street” approach is preferred in situations where municipalities face an uncertain budgetary forecast. The reason is that projects are large enough to be coherent, but not so large that non-critical work is done. This approach is very good at a maintenance plan that focuses on a few select arterial and collector streets with the occasional local road or alleyway mixed in. It is also one of the easier methods to mobilize for, because projects are more often than not, selected areas recommending a similar rehab strategy.
Resilient PMP Operations
A sad reality of the pandemic economy and the uncertainty that it creates is that many municipalities are faced with staff reductions, early retirements, and furloughs. Navigating through staff reductions can be difficult in an industry like pavement management, where is it not always easy to find candidates with the unique skill sets and training that many have spent decades nurturing. The best ways to manage through a staffing crunch is to have a backup plan. Cross-training is effective, if it is presented the right way. Cross training should be seen as an opportunity, not an obligation. Encourage staff to cross train in an area that they are interested in. Maybe that is GIS, maybe it is QC; if a staff member is training in something that they see value in, the training itself becomes a reward, not a burden. Be careful, however, to set boundaries on training, so that the agency doesn’t lose entire weeks on training activities.
Consider developing a network of consultants with specialized skills that can be on-call, in case the need arises. It is always more cost efficient to manage an ongoing consultant relationship than it is to frantically contract for a last minute emergency. Bringing new consultants up to speed on your PMP needs should not be a last minute endeavor.
Expand your Toolkit
There are literally hundreds of rehab techniques and just as many contractors that will eagerly accept the work. Work with neighboring municipalities and local groups to seek out new and innovative rehab strategies for your pavement network. Even the state asphalt/concrete association may provide contacts or strategies that can save your agency time and money. Connect with local contractors about the rehab strategies that they are best at, and work together to optimize their effectiveness. Design level suggestions from a local pavement engineer may open the door to innovative maintenance strategies, and cost-effective solutions.
A pavement management system is a network level program that forecasts budgets and prioritizes projects; it is not a substitute for design level work. Before your agency dedicates itself to a maintenance project, make sure an in-the-field confirmation supports the planned work. Network level testing helps develop the budgets, while project level testing completes the design. Collaboration with local utility companies can be a great strategy. When planning new project level work, connect with local gas/electric/internet/water providers and see if there are areas where collaboration and cost sharing is applicable.
Sidewalk Condition and ADA Compliance
Sidewalks, pedestrian curb ramps, and curb and gutter repairs can significantly impact your PMP. Ignoring ADA is not an option. Just like with pavement management, a complete inventory and assessment can help identify the potential costs associated with ADA compliance, and a good-faith effort to adhere to the ADA is an absolute requirement for all agencies, no matter the size. Just as with street repairs, make sure to reach out to local utilities for collaborative opportunities when performing maintenance. Sidewalks surrounding parks, schools, and downtown areas generally receive more pedestrian traffic than the other sidewalks in town. Recognize that your budget may limit the areas where sidewalk rehabilitation work can be done, and work with your team to identify the most highly trafficked sidewalks to focus on first.
Successful Management in an Underfunded Covid Environment
Hopefully this has provided you with a few actionable suggestions for improving your pavement management strategies during these uncertain times. Always remember that roads must be treated as an asset, and it is far more cost effective to maintain a good road than to rebuild a failed one. Try your best to achieve the steady state level of funding, which is the minimum funding requirement to maintain the network average. Funding under this level ensures heavier rehab costs years down the road. Review your management strategies and rehab activities, there are inefficiencies waiting to be found, and you want to catch them before they incur additional costs. Finally, having a defensible strategy minimizes outside influences and allows your agency to operate with minimal disruptions. IMS wishes your agency the best in navigating this crisis that we all face, and we will always be happy to connect with you on any subject that our expertise favors. Stay healthy.