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Street Fight, Part 4: Importance of Early Intervention

MTC has long advocated pavement preservation to help cities and counties get the biggest bang for their pavement buck. Just as regular oil changes are far less expensive than a complete engine rebuild, it is five to 10 times cheaper to properly maintain streets than to allow them to fail and then pay for the necessary rehabilitation (see chart above). Deteriorating pavement carries private costs as well. "Approximately $800 a year is spent by Bay Area motorists maintaining their vehicles," says Rocky Moretti of TRIP. "These are additional costs that they're paying because of the rough roads in the region.

The most cost-effective way to maintain a roadway is to address cracks in the pavement as soon as they surface. Bay Area cities and counties have embraced the importance of early intervention through the adoption of proactive maintenance strategies, better education in pavement preservation concepts, and regional policies that give local governments incentives to practice pavement preservation on their street and road networks. Plan Bay Area, the long-range transportation and land-use strategy adopted by MTC and the Association of Bay Area Governments in 2013, reaffirms this approach by conditioning regional funds for local street and road maintenance not only on need and level of system usage but also on preventive-maintenance performance.

By contrast, cities and counties that spend almost all of their paving budgets to fix only a handful of failed roadways, instead of proactively maintaining a much larger percentage of their network that is still in good condition, are practicing what is known as a “Worst First” strategy. With this approach, the good roads for which maintenance is deferred soon fall into disrepair and require more extensive and costly treatments. While the Bay Area's target of overall "good" quality pavement remains elusive, cities’ and counties’ support for preventive maintenance — and their shift away from the ineffective “Worst First” strategy — has helped local governments effectively stabilize PCI scores in the "fair" range despite rising costs for paving materials and a steady decline in the purchasing power of most municipalities’ pavement maintenance budgets.

“If you have money to seal your streets on a regular basis, you don’t develop the cracks and the underlying damage,” explains San Jose’s Larsen. 

Pavement Management Boosts Preservation Returns

Building on pavement preservation principles established by the Federal Highway Administration, MTC developed a pavement management software package called StreetSaver® to assist local agencies in maintaining their roadways. StreetSaver integrates the three main pavement preservation components: preventive maintenance, minor rehabilitation (non-structural) and routine maintenance, as well as rehabilitation and reconstruction. Today, all 109 Bay Area jurisdictions — and more than 300 additional public agencies nationwide — use StreetSaver. The software allows cities and counties to inventory their street networks, determine their maintenance needs and devise maintenance programs based on available revenues. The software develops a list of recommended treatments (classified as preventive maintenance, minor rehab, major rehab or reconstruction), and prioritizes treatments based on a weighted effectiveness ratio. Within the constraints of the local government's budget, StreetSaver selects the most cost-effective treatments for implementation, and defers the remainder.

As with any other software package, StreetSaver's effectiveness depends on the input of reliable data. So for StreetSaver to work, public works staff must promptly enter updated information about maintenance treatments once the treatments have been applied.

Benefits of a Pavement Management System

  • Provide a systematic way of gauging pavement conditions, and present a series of steps for using this information to identify and schedule the most appropriate treatments.
  • Help cities and counties make more efficient use of public funds by allowing them to immediately put any available new moneys to their most cost-effective use.
  • Allow local governments to predict what conditions would be at different levels of funding, and to quantify the consequences of underfunded road maintenance.
  • Allow local governments to establish performance-based funding allocation policies.
  • Reduce governments’ overall maintenance spending once the management system reaches its goal of getting all pavement segments to the condition where preservation is the primary strategy being applied.
  • Build support for increased funding by systematically tracking pavement inventories, conditions and maintenance activities across multiple jurisdictions.

Continue reading: part 5, Case Studies.

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