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Why is pavement management important?

The nation’s road system represents an asset valued at more than $2.4 trillion. Nearly 90% of passenger-miles traveled and 60% of the nations’ total freight is transported via the nation’s highway system. There is no doubt, it is an asset worthy of substantial investment for the sake of our economy and the safety of our citizens.

Two constant elements unrelentingly diminish pavement’s value and cost the nation billions of dollars every year: traffic loads and environmental conditions.

The budgets allocated for the construction, repair and ongoing maintenance of pavement grow increasingly tighter. As a result, it has become obvious that relying solely on traditional experience-based maintenance and repair (M&R) techniques is not sufficient. We have the tools and knowledge to proactively manage the maintenance of our nation’s highways, taking into consideration a number of factors such as life cycle cost analysis, timing of projects, prioritization and optimization, as well as the prediction of pavement performance. This modern approach to the pavement management process takes all these factors into consideration to develop a proactive, cost-efficient approach to protecting and preserving the valuable asset our national highway systems represents.

In his wonderfully informative and helpful book, “Pavement Management for Airports, Roads, and Parking Lots,” M.Y. Shahin describes pavement management as “systematic, consistent method for selecting M & R needs and determining priorities and the optimal time of repair by predicting future pavement condition.”

The importance of maintenance timing is illustrated nicely in the following figure from the book:

pavement management graph

The figure clearly shows that conducting M &R before the sharp deterioration of the asset results in significant savings on repair costs. These financial savings are in addition to avoiding long roadway closures, detours and traffic delays.

The pavement management process consists of the following steps (each of which will be discussed further in another Pillar Talk column):

  1. Pavement inventory
  2. Pavement inspection and assessment
  3. Pavement condition prediction and analysis

Every dollar spent on thoroughfares is an investment in the economy and public good. Indeed, pavement management is a valuable tool in ensuring taxpayers that their investment (tax dollars) are providing them with safe, accessible, sustainable and a long-lasting network of roadways.