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Investing in the Future of Roads

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by Jim Sorenson

The goal of "Keeping good roads good" is behind a growing number of pavement preservation programs nationwide. Information on what states, industry and others have accomplished can now be found on a new CD available from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), National Pavement Preservation Forum II: Investing in the Future (Publication No. FHWA-IF-03-019).

The CD contains presentations and papers from the National Pavement Preservation Forum II, which was held in San Diego, Calif., in November 2001. The conference gave participants an opportunity to share success stories, detail challenges and discuss the future of pavement preservation. The event, which was a follow-up to the 1998 Forum for the Future, was sponsored by the Foundation for Pavement Preservation, FHWA and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

"Keeping good roads good" involves the timely application of carefully selected treatments to maintain or extend a pavement's service life. These treatments may include various types of surface seals, thin lift overlays and crack sealing for asphalt pavements. Treatments for concrete pavements might include crack and joint sealing, diamond grinding and retrofit dowel bars. The key is to apply the treatments when the pavement is still in good condition, with no structural damage. Placing a treatment too late will result in poor performance, while applying treatments too early can cause other pavement problems and use up funds before they are needed. Applying the right treatment to the right road at the right time allows highway agencies to get the most out of their maintenance dollars.

Conference participants stressed the importance of education and awareness as vehicles for promoting pavement preservation. Other keys to success cited by forum participants were:

  • Adequate dedicated funds;
  • Effective marketing of preventive maintenance;
  • Support from management;
  • Legislative support;
  • Training and buy-in of workers; and
  • Public awareness of the financial benefits of preventive maintenance.

Conference co-sponsor Caltrans began its pavement preservation efforts in 1992 and now issues an annual Pavement Condition Report, which it uses to determine high-priority needs. The agency also developed 10-year pavement goals, which were implemented in 1998. These goals include reducing the backlog of distressed lane miles from 14,000 to 5,000 by 2008. Preventive maintenance work completed to date has included applying a 1.2-in. asphalt rubber overlay to 150 lane miles of I-5 in Fresno. The work, which was performed by the Granite Co., had to be completed in 65 days and come with a one-year warranty. The overlay "improved the ride dramatically and extended the pavement life by 10 additional years," said conference co-chair Larry Orcutt of Caltrans.

Forum participants noted that training is fundamental to spreading the word about pavement preservation.

In response to state and industry needs, FHWA has developed a series of pavement preservation training courses. Two courses are currently being offered to highway agencies through FHWA's National Highway Institute (NHI), while two more are expected to be available by fall 2003. Pavement Preservation: The Preventive Maintenance Concept is targeted toward highway agency decision makers, management, senior maintenance staff and others who have the ability to create and fund department programs and initiatives. Selecting Pavements for Preventive Maintenance targets engineers and field supervisors who make decisions about which roads receive treatment and when. Still under development are courses on Design and Construction of Quality Preventive Maintenance Treatments and Pavement Preservation: Integrating Pavement Preservation Practices and Pavement Management.

Pavement preservation treatments for asphalt pavements can include slurry seals, which are shown here.

Three men apply slurry seals to an asphalt pavement.

Also important to the success of pavement preservation programs is documenting the benefits of preventive maintenance. As forum participants noted, data must be accurate and it also should be accessible.

To obtain a copy of the Forum II CD, contact Steve Mueller at FHWA, 202/366-1557; fax: 202/366-9981; e-mail: steve.mueller@fhwa.dot.gov.*

Sorenson is a senior highway engineer in FHWA's Office of Asset Management. He can be reached at 202/366-1333; fax: 202/366-9981; e-mail: james.sorenson@fhwa.dot.gov.

Reprinted from Roads & Bridges, August 2003.

*The FHWA contact for copies of resources or current information on this topic is Joe Gregory, 202-366-1557 (email: joseph.gregory@dot.gov).

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Updated: 11/30/2015
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