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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 63· No. 4 > Editor's Notes

January/February 2000
Vol. 63· No. 4

Editor's Notes

We turn over the Editor's Notes column for this issue to Federal Highway Administrator Kenneth R. Wykle.

In Search of a "Quality" Highway

Today's consumers demand and receive better quality goods and services than ever before. In fact, the very word "quality" has become a mantra in many a corporate boardroom.

We in government highway agencies are not immune to this insistence on excellence. Once, citizens just waited for their highway department to develop new solutions to traffic problems. Now, they are actively involved with those decisions from the onset. These days, a public hearing is more often a case of "public talking," with those of us in government doing a lot more of the "hearing." Our customers want roads that are less costly, safer, better built, and longer lasting. In short, they want quality highways.

This public demand for quality is exemplified in a national survey of drivers completed four years ago. When asked what their key concerns were, those drivers said their No. 1 issue at that time was pavement conditions. They rated that item higher than the environment; higher than traffic flow; and yes, even higher than safety.

"It is clear that the [public's] top priority for improving the nation's highways is to focus on the quality of the roadway surface. This is the factor that will most significantly increase public satisfaction with the highway system," reported the National Highway User Survey, completed for the National Quality Initiative by Coopers & Lybrand L.L.P. in 1995.

There's that term again -- quality. But how, exactly, does one get a quality highway? With the higher standards demanded by today's consumer, it cannot mean merely filling in potholes. A quality highway is not just without cracks or bumps; it must be smooth, quiet, and last longer.

To respond to that call for quality, the Federal Highway Administration began working with other groups in the highway industry to "raise the bar" on highway quality. Largely through the efforts of state and local groups, construction contractors are finding innovative ways of getting smoother road surfaces.

For example, several state transportation departments have developed programs that pay incentives to the contractor for building roadways to higher standards of smoothness. The smoother the final pavement, the greater the incentive. These incentives have stimulated contractors to be more aggressive in finding equipment and techniques that help them to meet the higher standards.

Highway contractors have been so successful in building smoother pavements that more precise and repeatable smoothness-measuring equipment and procedures were developed.

We've also discovered that the old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" isn't very appropriate for highway maintenance. Done at the right time, minor treatments can extend the life of a pavement significantly and at a fraction of the cost and disruption of waiting to rebuild the road when it's "broke."

Surprisingly, these "new generation" highways are no more costly than their rougher predecessors because contractors typically anticipate the incentives and reduce their initial construction bids. Studies have shown that roads that start out smoother stay that way longer, resulting in a cheaper road in the long run and one that causes less damage to the cars and trucks that ride over them. This also reduces construction delays because the roads are rebuilt less frequently.

Others in the highway-building industry, hearing about these innovations and wanting to provide such highways for their customers, have requested details. So we've developed some "how-to" kits that include videotapes, brochures, and other materials. The demand for these "toolkits" has been overwhelming.

The public's demand for a better product is resulting in highways that are better in every way -- true "quality" highways.

Kenneth R. Wykle

Federal Highway Administrator

Editor's note: See "Pavement Preservation: Preserving the Investment in our Highways" in this issue.

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