Throughout much of its history, NCDOT has committed a large portion of its transportation dollars (as much as 50 percent) to new construction and capacity expansion projects, an approach that served the State well as its population burgeoned and it evolved from a rural to an urban State.
That focus began to change with the passage of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991, which required each State to prepare a long range transportation plan (LRP), along with a short-term statewide transportation improvement program (STIP) consistent with the State's long range goals. North Carolina began developing its long range plan as a result of the ISTEA provision, but the focus was still primarily on new construction.
In response to concern over the Nation's aging transportation infrastructure, FHWA, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and several industry associations implemented National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 14-12 on Maintenance Quality Assurance. The focus of the program was on measuring maintenance performance by level of service (LOS) for randomly selected roadway features on a given highway network. NCDOT became aware of Project 14-12 and developed the Maintenance Condition Assessment Program (MCAP) to survey and evaluate the condition of the State's highway assets in order to estimate the needs for routine maintenance and resurfacing.
A short time later, the North Carolina State Legislature passed General Statute 136-44.3 (Maintenance Program), which requires NCDOT to survey the condition of the State highway system in even-numbered years and report the findings to the State legislature. The MCAP satisfied the requirements of the General Statute, and NCDOT Operations made the commitment to conduct a statewide assessment every two years for the Interstate, primary, secondary and urban systems. (The agency's goal is 95 percent accuracy, plus or minus three percent, in the data collected.) Construction and expansion projects were still prevalent in the DOT's plan, but the focus began to turn more toward conditions and maintenance - and ultimately, with assistance from AASHTO and FHWA, to system preservation and asset management.
North Carolina wished to serve its citizens while simultaneously preparing to meet long-term transportation needs. In addition, the department wanted a comprehensive transportation/asset management plan that would 1) provide an investment strategy based on the department's guiding principles, and 2) serve as a policy guideline to support future investment decision-making. Documents such as the MCAP report had proven invaluable in educating the legislature, public and other stakeholders on the maintenance needs of the department and in increasing awareness of the importance of infrastructure preservation, but the department knew it needed a more comprehensive asset management approach. Estimates of both infrastructure needs and available revenue would be key to making informed, realistic decisions and maximizing North Carolina's financial resources.
For this to happen, NCDOT needed to 1) obtain the best system data possible, and 2) develop a comprehensive asset management/long range plan that was performance driven. NCDOT staff knew that this would require a departure from past practice, where documents were developed in-house and remained with the planning division. Creating a comprehensive long range plan document would require involvement from all divisions as well as a concerted public involvement effort.
Figure 4: Resurfacing a country road.