Remaining Service Life of Your Network

Don't Be Afraid of the End of the Road, Be Proactive About it.

Thinking about how much service life your road network has left can be a little overwhelming. If managed right, some roads can last for decades, But others need work now.  For road managers, one of the trickiest parts of the job is balancing our resources to keep our roads from falling to the bottom of the curve-- all while adding life to your network.  

For some, the idea of remaining service life (RSL) is an entirely new concept, but after learning the rationale and reason behind it, RSL can become a breakthrough “ah-ha” moment of improvement. 

Think of it like this: You’re in an on-going war against deteriorating infrastructure assets.  When you look at your network through the lens of (RSL), you have the ability to calculate the “score”. Are you advancing or improving in the war? Or retreating?  

RSL can also be an effective tool for explaining to budget stakeholders and justifying annual planning. On a playing field where you have several strategies at your disposal, road managers can use RSL to demonstrate the value of each approach.  Because when you’re managing a lot of miles, you need to make sure the work you do now will have a positive impact later. 


What is RSL? 

PPRA’s Remaining Service Life concept is simply a calculation to determine if your annual plan will net positive or negative for the year. Without properly documented examination of each lane-mile in your network, determining your actual network service life can be almost impossible.  But, even a simple RSL calculation does more than keep tabs on the status of your network – it helps you determine your next move. 

“It’s a great check to see what sort of impact you’re having with your current planning. For most road managers who’ve never thought about RSL, the answer usually comes as a surprise.” says Lindsay Matush, the lead strategist and researcher behind

Each lane mile in your network has a limited amount of serviceable life to live.  So, every year, each lane mile of your network loses 1 lane mile-year of life. That means for a network with 1000 lane-miles, you must add 1000 lane-mile years of life, each year, or else you’re contributing to a deteriorating network… and falling behind in the game. 


So, What’s The Right Move?

It can be tempting to treat your roads in worse shape first, especially when funding is limited-- which, for most road managers is all the time. But the “worst-first” approach can actually be more detrimental than you think. 

You might be tempted to undergo total reconstruction of the worst road of your network. But that reconstruction will likely take up a significant total of your yearly budget, leaving just a small amount of funds left over for the other roads in your network. And that leaves the majority of the roads in your network completely untreated. 

When miles of good roads go without care, that can contribute to the overall decline of RSL. While it might seem like solving a short-term problem is helpful, it can just cause more issues down the road. 

The secret to maximizing your RSL is using an optimized network management approach that integrates preservation, recycling, and reclamation with a balanced eye toward the future, as well as the immediate “must-haves.” 

Employing optimized management means using a number of less invasive and more efficient measures on multiple roads across your network. That helps keep good roads in good shape longer, and makes sure you’re ahead of the curve when it comes to future needs for treatment. It might take a little more planning, but that planning is always worth it. 


How Do I Calculate RSL? 

The best place to start is the RSL calculator. There, you can input data specific to your road network, and get a more accurate depiction of how different projects will affect both your budget and the overall quality of your network over time. It’s one of the more effective ways to learn how you can inject maximum life into your network. 

“The RSL calculator isn’t designed to replace a pavement management system, but it can help illustrate a very helpful concept, and set road managers on the path to success.” says Matush. 


What’s Next? 

There’s no way of knowing exactly how many years of life your road network has left, but you can get ahead of the deterioration your network faces each year. 

Taking smaller preservation actions now can prevent you from having to undergo costly rehabilitation efforts later down the road. And if it’s hard to explain to your stakeholders why solving what seems like the easy problem first isn’t the best solution, RSL gives you the data to back your decision. 

However you decide to treat your road network, RSL isn’t something to be afraid of. Because when you understand the data, it’s much easier to use it to your advantage. 

Find out more about RSL and how to calculate your network’s RSL here.