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DOT LogoMemorandum
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration

Subject: ACTION Pavement Preservation Definitions Date: September 12, 2005
From: /s/ Original signed by:
David R. Geiger, P.E.
Director, Office of Asset Management
Refer To: HIAM-20
To: Associate Administrators
Directors of Field Services
Resource Center Director and Operations Manager
Division Administrators
Federal Lands Highway Division Engineers

As a follow-up to our Preventive Maintenance memorandum of October 8, 2004, it has come to our attention that there are differences about how pavement preservation terminology is being interpreted among local and State transportation agencies (STAs). This can cause inconsistency relating to how the preservation programs are applied and their effectiveness measured. Based on those questions and a review of literature, we are issuing this guidance to provide clarification to pavement preservation definitions.

Pavement preservation represents a proactive approach in maintaining our existing highways. It enables STAs to reduce costly, time consuming rehabilitation and reconstruction projects and the associated traffic disruptions. With timely preservation we can provide the traveling public with improved safety and mobility, reduced congestion, and smoother, longer lasting pavements. This is the true goal of pavement preservation, a goal in which the FHWA, through its partnership with States, local agencies, industry organizations, and other interested stakeholders, is committed to achieve.

A Pavement Preservation program consists primarily of three components: preventive maintenance, minor rehabilitation (non structural), and some routine maintenance activities as seen in figure 1.

Figure 1 as discussed above
Figure 1: Componets of Pavement Preservation

An effective pavement preservation program can benefit STAs by preserving investment on the NHS and other Federal-aid roadways, enhancing pavement performance, ensuring cost-effectiveness, extending pavement life, reducing user delays, and providing improved safety and mobility.

It is FHWA's goal to support the development and conduct of effective pavement preservation programs. As indicated above, pavement preservation is a combination of different strategies which, when taken together, achieve a single goal. It is useful to clarify the distinctions between the various types of maintenance activities, especially in the sense of why they would or would not be considered preservation.

For a treatment to be considered pavement preservation, one must consider its intended purpose. As shown in Table 1 below, the distinctive characteristics of pavement preservation activities are that they restore the function of the existing system and extend its service life, not increase its capacity or strength.

Pavement Preservation Guidelines
  Type of Activity Increase Capacity Increase Strength Reduce Aging Restore Serviceability
New Construction X X X X
Reconstruction X X X X
Major (Heavy) Rehabilitation   X X X
Structural Overlay   X X X
Minor (Light) Rehabilitation     X X
Pavement Preservation  
Preventive Maintenance     X X
Routine Maintenance       X
Corrective (Reactive) Maintenance       X
Catastrophic Maintenance       X

Table 1 - Pavement Preservation Guidelines

Definitions for Pavement Maintenance Terminology

Pavement Preservation is "a program employing a network level, long-term strategy that enhances pavement performance by using an integrated, cost-effective set of practices that extend pavement life, improve safety and meet motorist expectations." Source: FHWA Pavement Preservation Expert Task Group

An effective pavement preservation program will address pavements while they are still in good condition and before the onset of serious damage. By applying a cost-effective treatment at the right time, the pavement is restored almost to its original condition. The cumulative effect of systematic, successive preservation treatments is to postpone costly rehabilitation and reconstruction. During the life of a pavement, the cumulative discount value of the series of pavement preservation treatments is substantially less than the discounted value of the more extensive, higher cost of reconstruction and generally more economical than the cost of major rehabilitation. Additionally, performing a series of successive pavement preservation treatments during the life of a pavement is less disruptive to uniform traffic flow than the long closures normally associated with reconstruction projects.

Preventive Maintenance is "a planned strategy of cost-effective treatments to an existing roadway system and its appurtenances that preserves the system, retards future deterioration, and maintains or improves the functional condition of the system (without significantly increasing the structural capacity)." Source: AASHTO Standing Committee on Highways, 1997

Preventive maintenance is typically applied to pavements in good condition having significant remaining service life. As a major component of pavement preservation, preventive maintenance is a strategy of extending the service life by applying cost-effective treatments to the surface or near-surface of structurally sound pavements. Examples of preventive treatments include asphalt crack sealing, chip sealing, slurry or micro-surfacing, thin and ultra-thin hot-mix asphalt overlay, concrete joint sealing, diamond grinding, dowel-bar retrofit, and isolated, partial and/or full-depth concrete repairs to restore functionality of the slab; e.g., edge spalls, or corner breaks.

Pavement Rehabilitation consists of "structural enhancements that extend the service life of an existing pavement and/or improve its load carrying capacity. Rehabilitation techniques include restoration treatments and structural overlays." Source: AASHTO Highway Subcommittee on Maintenance

Rehabilitation projects extend the life of existing pavement structures either by restoring existing structural capacity through the elimination of age-related, environmental cracking of embrittled pavement surface or by increasing pavement thickness to strengthen existing pavement sections to accommodate existing or projected traffic loading conditions. Two sub-categories result from these distinctions, which are directly related to the restoration or increase of structural capacity.

Minor rehabilitation consists of non-structural enhancements made to the existing pavement sections to eliminate age-related, top-down surface cracking that develop in flexible pavements due to environmental exposure. Because of the non-structural nature of minor rehabilitation techniques, these types of rehabilitation techniques are placed in the category of pavement preservation.

Major rehabilitation "consists of structural enhancements that both extend the service life of an existing pavement and/or improve its load-carrying capability." Source: AASHTO Highway Subcommittee on Maintenance Definition

Routine Maintenance "consists of work that is planned and performed on a routine basis to maintain and preserve the condition of the highway system or to respond to specific conditions and events that restore the highway system to an adequate level of service." Source: AASHTO Highway Subcommittee on Maintenance

Routine maintenance consists of day-to-day activities that are scheduled by maintenance personnel to maintain and preserve the condition of the highway system at a satisfactory level of service. Examples of pavement-related routine maintenance activities include cleaning of roadside ditches and structures, maintenance of pavement markings and crack filling, pothole patching and isolated overlays. Crack filling is another routine maintenance activity which consists of placing a generally, bituminous material into "non-working" cracks to substantially reduce water infiltration and reinforce adjacent top-down cracks. Depending on the timing of application, the nature of the distress, and the type of activity, certain routine maintenance activities may be classified as preservation. Routine Maintenance activities are often "in-house" or agency-performed and are not normally eligible for Federal-aid funding.

Other activities in pavement repair are an important aspect of a STA's construction and maintenance program, although they are outside the realm of pavement preservation:

Corrective Maintenance activities are performed in response to the development of a deficiency or deficiencies that negatively impact the safe, efficient operations of the facility and future integrity of the pavement section. Corrective maintenance activities are generally reactive, not proactive, and performed to restore a pavement to an acceptable level of service due to unforeseen conditions. Activities such as pothole repair, patching of localized pavement deterioration, e.g. edge failures and/or grade separations along the shoulders, are considered examples of corrective maintenance of flexible pavements. Examples for rigid pavements might consist of joint replacement or full width and depth slab replacement at isolated locations.

Catastrophic Maintenance describes work activities generally necessary to return a roadway facility back to a minimum level of service while a permanent restoration is being designed and scheduled. Examples of situations requiring catastrophic pavement maintenance activities include concrete pavement blow-ups, road washouts, avalanches, or rockslides.

Pavement Reconstruction is the replacement of the entire existing pavement structure by the placement of the equivalent or increased pavement structure. Reconstruction usually requires the complete removal and replacement of the existing pavement structure. Reconstruction may utilize either new or recycled materials incorporated into the materials used for the reconstruction of the complete pavement section. Reconstruction is required when a pavement has either failed or has become functionally obsolete.

If you need technical support or further guidance in the pavement preservation area, please contact Christopher Newman in the FHWA Office of Asset Management at (202) 366-2023 or via e-mail at

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Updated: 04/07/2011

United States Department of Transportation - Federal Highway Administration