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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / September 1997

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-SA-97-027
Date: September 1997

Preventive Maintenance Yields Huge Savings, Says Michigan Study

Maintenance engineers have been making the case for preventive maintenance for years-but their message has often gone unheeded. Now, a study from the Michigan Department of Transportation (DOT) provides hard evidence that preventive maintenance is a wise investment. According to the study, the DOT's preventive maintenance strategy is more than six times as cost-effective as rehabilitation and reconstruction projects.

Michigan DOT adopted its preventive maintenance strategy in 1992 as a way to keep its 15,420 km (9,580 mi) of highways in the best shape possible despite declining financial resources. Since then, preventive maintenance treatments have been applied to about 4,260 km (2,650 mi) of asphalt and portland cement concrete pavements, at a cost of $80 million.

Had the DOT not implemented its preventive maintenance strategy, the study found, the DOT would have to spend $700 million today on rehabilitation and reconstruction projects to bring pavements up to their current condition. That's more than eight times as much money as has been spent on preventive maintenance treatments.

The study was conducted by Michigan DOT's Bureau of Transportation Planning and is based on very conservative assumptions about the performance of preventive maintenance treatments. To further validate the value of preventive maintenance, Michigan DOT hired an independent consultant to verify that the pavements had actually benefited from the preventive maintenance treatments. "We wanted to see whether the treatments had worked and whether they were in fact a good value," says Larry Galehouse, pavement maintenance engineer at Michigan DOT. The consultant concluded that most preventive maintenance treatments were successful in extending the life of the pavement.

Michigan DOT makes the most of its resources by carefully timing the application of preventive maintenance treatments. Galehouse says the DOT has found that applying maintenance treatments to pavements with light to moderate distress provides a substantial improvement in pavement life; in contrast, treating a severely distressed pavement accomplishes very little.

Michigan DOT relies on a wide variety of maintenance treatments, which allows the highway agency to select the least expensive treatment that will address the problems found on a specific pavement. "We don't need an expensive fix for every road," Galehouse says.

The highway agency's preventive maintenance strategy is also designed to make yearly funding needs more predictable. The DOT classifies pavements in one of six categories, ranging from roads in need of almost immediate rehabilitation to roads expected to last for another 2 or 3 decades. Today, the amount of roads in each category varies widely. By carefully matching pavements with appropriate preventive maintenance treatments, the DOT is evening out the disparity; this will prevent huge surges in the number of pavements in need of costly rehabilitation or reconstruction in any given year.

For more information on the Michigan DOT study, contact Larry Galehouse at Michigan DOT (phone: 517-322-3315; fax: 517-322-2699; email: galehousel@state.mi.us).

photo of a chip seal.

Michigan DOT relies on a wide variety maintenance treatments to extend the life of its pavements. Here, a chip seal is applied.

Update on the Lead States Team for Pavement Preservation

In its role as a member of the Lead States team for pavement preservation, Michigan is publicizing the results of its study. A recent survey by the team, which also includes Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and Wisconsin, had found that several States are seeking information they can use to help increase management support for preventive maintenance.

Wouter Gulden of Georgia DOT, leader of the Lead States team for pavement preservation, reports that the team's members are documenting the details, costs, and benefits of their own preventive maintenance strategies. "We're also asking other States to write up their experiences with preventive maintenance strategies," Gulden says.

The team is producing a videotape that features top officials from several State highway agencies speaking out on the importance of preventive maintenance. The videotape is designed to help chief engineers persuade legislators, top-level managers, and others of the value of funding preventive maintenance. (When the video is available, it will be announced in Focus.)

For more information on the Lead States team for pavement preservation, contact Wouter Gulden of Georgia DOT (phone: 404-363-7510; fax: 404-362-4925).

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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