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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / January/February 2003

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-RD-03-014
Date: January/February 2003

Pavement Warranties: Learning from the European Experience

Does your road come with a warranty? Traditional U.S. construction contracts have typically required contractors to provide a project warranty for just 1 year following construction completion. Highway agencies are now increasingly requesting longer term warranty contracts on large asphalt paving projects, with the goal of improving pavement performance and reducing life-cycle costs (see article, page 1). Four- and 5-year warranties are already common in Europe, where some highway agencies have been using them for more than 40 years. To learn more from Europe's experiences, a U.S. panel of Federal, State, and local government and industry representatives traveled to Spain, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and Great Britain in September 2002 for a "European Asphalt Pavement Warranties Scan." The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) jointly sponsored the scanning tour, under the guidance of the FHWA Office of International Programs and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program.

The scan was designed to review and document the policies and strategies used in Europe to determine risk assessment and administer warranty contracts. As the participants learned, all of the countries visited believe that warranties have improved the quality of their highway systems. "They're achieving a better quality product and a better relation with contractors," says scan co-chair John D'Angelo of FHWA. Specific items studied were:

Meetings were held with government agencies, academia, and private sector organizations. Participants also had the opportunity to visit sites where innovative asphalt warranty contracting techniques were being applied. "I found particularly interesting Europe's long standing experience with materials and performance warranties," says Steve Bower of the Michigan Department of Transportation. "These materials and workmanship warranties cover all types of road construction work, including pavements, bridges, roadway embankments, seeding and sodding, and pavement marking."

All of the countries visited use materials and workmanship warranties, which ensure that the contractor will build the pavement as specified by the owner and fix any defects resulting from the use of improper materials or inferior installation. Warranty periods vary, with Spain employing a 1-year warranty period, for example, and Germany using a 4-year warranty.

Three of the countries, Denmark, Sweden, and Great Britain, use performance warranties. This type of warranty covers the performance of the complete asphalt pavement, in addition to materials and workmanship, and allows for contractor innovation in mix design and/or material installation. All three countries have a 5-year warranty period. In addition to rutting, cracking, and durability, smoothness and friction are often measured as well.

All of the countries use a best-value procurement process instead of a low bid one. Under this procurement process, the contract is awarded based on technical and/or performance items, not just cost. The best-value criteria include safety features, innovation, and environmental impact. Denmark also considers the bidding of additional years of warranty as a best-value criterion. The host countries consider this best-value criteria to be critical to their warranty programs, as highway agencies must have greater confidence in contractors' ability to get the job done.

The European countries are also looking at alternative contracting as a way to increase innovation without creating a burden for highway agencies, which are increasingly short-handed. Two of these alternative contracting methods are pavement performance contracts (PPCs) and design-build-finance-operate (DBFO) contracts. PPCs extend performance warranties to cover a warranty period that is closer to the design life of the pavement. The contractor is responsible for designing, constructing, and maintaining the performance of the pavement at pre-specified levels. Maintenance can include anything from filling potholes to a complete mill and overlay of a section of pavement. All five countries are using or experimenting with some form of PPCs, which have warranty periods of 11 to 20 years. The PPCs are being developed in close collaboration with industry.

Scanning tour panel at a meeting

Scanning tour panel during tour

The scanning tour panel meets with the government in Denmark, as well as industry representatives from Denmark and Sweden.

Both Spain and Great Britain are using DBFOs to turn a small fraction of their highway network over to the private sector for long-term financing, operation, and maintenance. These DBFO contracts range from 25 to 30 years. Several factors are contributing to the use of the contracts, including a lack of public funding and the belief that private financing and maintenance can sometimes deliver a higher quality product.

Group photo of the scanning tour panel in Germany

The scanning tour panel in Germany.

Following its observation of the successful European warranty programs, the scan team's recommendations include:

For more information about the scan or to obtain an Executive Summary of the trip's findings, contact John D'Angelo at FHWA, 202-366-0121 (fax: 202-493-2070; email: john.d'angelo@fhwa.dot.gov). A detailed report on the scan will be published this summer.

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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