Think of a road network like the human body. To stay healthy, it’s important to exercise, eat right and see a doctor regularly. When people ignore this advice, things may work for a while. But, if something major happens to the body as a result of neglect, such as a heart attack, that person may be forced to rely on drastic measures to recover.
The same principle applies to roads and pavement. It just isn’t worth waiting for the first heart attack when you can proactively prevent major damage.
Unfortunately, many road networks across the US and Canada are managed by relying on infrequent but expensive and wasteful maintenance, rather than utilizing a treatment plan that keeps a network “in good shape” for the length of its life.
What is Worst-First Management?
“Worst-First” is a phrase commonly used in the asphalt industry to describe a maintenance plan that prioritizes “the worst” or most deteriorated roads for treatment each year. For worst-first managers, a road gets fixed after failure, then is set aside for another 10-15 years until it becomes a problem again. Enter, double bypass surgery number two, and so on.
The problem lies in how we talk about road maintenance. Road maintenance is too often a reactive process. For example, “When a road fails, fix it.” While this seems like a helpful approach, the worst-first mindset actually costs millions in taxpayer dollars every year.
But what does proactive maintenance look like for a piece of asphalt pavement? High-performing agencies across the US and Canada are taking advantage of two key concepts to intentionally plan for the life of a road and maintain their road networks.
Lower-Cost Treatments, Applied Early and Often
Pavement experts use a pavement deterioration curve to illustrate the life of an untreated road. In general a road will last nearly 20 years if left untreated. By year 20, a road will be physically falling apart from severe deterioration, and is considered undrivable.
Pavement experts will note that during the typical life of a road, pavement condition will drop 40% in quality over the first 75% of the road’s life. Then, in just the next 12% of the road’s life, the pavement will drop another 40% in quality. That’s what we call the point of accelerated deterioration.
By implementing treatments more frequently at the top of the curve, the life of a road can be prolonged for less monet. A proactive approach requires more frequent maintenance, and may seem “out of reach” for many agencies. However, the treatments engineered to address concerns at the top of the curve (or during the first portion of a road’s life) have lower equivalent annualized costs than their conventional counterparts. These savings over time stack up to major value for agencies and their taxpayers. In other words, it’s worth going for that run every morning.
Consider the impact on the life cycle of a road if we “stack” treatments over time. By planning for the life of a road, agencies are getting 40 years of life (and more) using a basic Life Cycle Cost Analysis.
Smart Intervention Further Down the Curve
Of course, pavement managers know that it’s not always easy to shift to a proactive plan. The reality is that nearly every city or county in the world has roads in need of significant intervention to get them “back to good condition.”
For intervention further down the curve (pavement conditions near C, D and F), we see high performing agencies shifting away from conventional mill & fill or and remove & replace to greener, more cost-effective recycling and reclamation treatments.
Consider the cost of replacing a road with all new materials. Remember that the cost will include removal of your old road and trucking in new material (not to mention the rising cost of traditional treatments). Because of this, many agencies are opting to re-use the asphalt they’ve already paid for, right there, on-site.
Recycling and reclamation treatments cut down on trucking and hauling, material costs, and time-- so your roads reopen for traffic sooner. Agencies are avoiding expensive intervention, re-using their existing assets—it’s a win, win (there’s a reason Recycled Asphalt Pavement (RAP) is called “black gold”).
A recycling or reclamation intervention at the bottom of the curve, followed by a proactive treatment plan can get your road back in shape, and running strong for years to come.
Instead roadway management mantras that center around, “If it fails, I’ll fix it.” we’d like to see more proactive perspectives from agencies, such as “I’ll keep my roads in good shape.” This shift in perspective is important. With enough implementation, it will pay off for taxpayers, the driving public and the environment.