Developing Pavement Management Systems

Sept. 5, 2023
A step-by step guide for small and mid-size municipalities

By Hossein Roshani, Contributing Author

Building and maintaining roads costs money. For small and mid-size cities, a pavement management system (PMS) might be the answer when every penny counts. With constant wear and tear on roads, decision makers in these municipalities must optimize strategies to preserve and maintain their road network.

A PMS helps with the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of the existing pavements. To effectively use a PMS, it is important to understand pavement deterioration and life cycle. It is crucial to have a grasp on organizing street asset inventory, pavement condition index (PCI), pavement condition assessment methods, data analysis, and pavement maintenance plan development.

The following steps outline the essential components needed to create a successful pavement management system for municipalities whose street networks consist mostly of asphalt pavement.

Review and Organize the Existing Pavement Inventory

The first step in developing a pavement management system for small to mid-size municipalities is reviewing and organizing the existing roads. This means collecting data on the size and location of pavement assets.

This data can be developed on a mapping and analytics software. However, this data may have to be scrubbed to remove errors or inconsistencies. This ensures the pavement inventory is precise and reliable when making decisions about maintenance and repair.

Two primary methods for verifying the dimensions of street blocks are actual measurement in the field and using satellite imagery from Google Earth.

Actual measurement in the field using a measuring tape or surveying equipment can be an accurate method, but it is time consuming and resource intensive due to the physical work involved. Using Google Earth is another method for quickly/remotely verifying the dimensions of street blocks. However, it may not be as accurate as actual field measurements.

An effective way to use Google Earth is to get an initial estimate of street widths, followed by verification in the field to ensure consistency between the estimated widths and actual observations. This can be an effective way to measure street widths and address discrepancies. Using a blend of remote sensing techniques and on-site observations, this approach can provide a more accurate reflection of a city’s street network.

Once the data is verified, create a digital map showing locations and quantity of pavement assets. Identify areas that require attention. Your mapping software will allow you to add layers of information, such as traffic volume and pavement age, which can help in maintenance and repair decisions.

After importing the street network, divide streets into pavement segments or pavement blocks for more effective asset management. By breaking down the street network into smaller segments, asset managers can better understand the specific needs of each segment and develop more targeted maintenance and repair plans accordingly.

Once this step is completed, experienced staff members familiar with the street network can perform a quality control (QC) check to identify missing streets or segments that extend beyond the city limits. They can use their expertise to review, revise, and update the network to ensure that the data is complete and accurate.

Implementing Pavement Management Software

Pavement management software is an essential tool for developing a PMS. It can organize pavement inventory data, including pavement condition, age, and history. This data can help managers prioritize repair efforts and develop a comprehensive maintenance and repair plan. 

Another benefit: the ability to monitor the performance of the pavement network. By defining a pavement deterioration curve and tracking changes in pavement condition, and maintenance and repair history, asset managers can identify trends and determine future road needs.

Pavement management software options and licensing fees can vary depending on multiple factors. But they are essential, as many can import and export information, such as street network data, into their systems, making it easier to manage pavement assets.

Pavement Condition Assessment

Condition assessment provides critical information about the condition of the pavement network. By analyzing the condition of the pavement assets and predicting future deterioration, asset managers can estimate the resources required for maintaining and repairing the pavement network.

Experts can rate the road by using the Pavement Condition Index (PCI), a standardized approach to assessing pavement condition, lifecycle, and regulatory compliance. This numerical rating system considers the type, extent, and severity of pavement damage, such as cracking, rutting, and weathering.

Pavement condition evaluations are done by windshield condition assessments and automated condition assessments. A windshield condition assessment involves trained personnel visually inspecting the pavement while driving at a slow speed.

Automated condition assessment involves the use of specialized equipment, such as lasers or cameras, to collect data on pavement condition. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Selection hinges on various factors: budget, available resources, size, and complexity of the pavement network.

Small-size municipalities typically have a smaller pavement network, which makes windshield assessment more efficient. Inspectors and engineers can assess the entire area and identify the types of pavement distress helping asset managers prioritize maintenance and repair efforts more effectively.

They can also identify other assets such as curbs, gutters, sidewalks, and ramps, while also assessing pavement. This allows for an all-encompassing evaluation of the entire pavement network. They can identify potential issues impacting pavement performance and causing failures like ponding and drainage issues, which may not be detected by automated methods.

Those issues can significantly impact pavement performance and identifying them early can help to prevent extensive damage to the pavement network. This information can ensure the pavement network remains safe and functional. 

A windshield assessment is often less expensive than an automated condition assessment, making it a more cost-effective option for small-size municipalities. For them, the cost of specialized equipment for automated assessment can be prohibitive, making windshield assessment a more realistic approach. 

Data Analysis

Data analysis enables municipalities to prioritize their efforts, allocate resources effectively, develop accurate cost estimates, review previous treatments, and predict future performance. 

The analysis can start with classifying pavement conditions into five levels: excellent, good, fair, poor, and failed. Classifications can be customized on the specific needs of the municipality; they can be more general or detailed, depending on the desired level of granularity in assessing pavement conditions. 

  • Unit costs for each pavement treatment can be developed based on recent bids for similar contracts in the region. This information allows for accurate budgeting and cost estimation for various maintenance and repair activities, aiding in financial planning for pavement management. 

Pavement performance curves can be developed using available traffic data and geotechnical data. They illustrate the relationship between pavement condition deterioration and factors such as traffic volume. This analysis helps predict future pavement performance and planning maintenance strategies. 

Pavement Maintenance Plan Development

With the data analyzed, it’s time to develop the pavement maintenance plan. Using the analysis, a customized pavement management plan with short and long-term goals can be created.

The plan supports a city’s pavement network objectives, allowing a city to clearly identify goals for its pavement network. Priorities can be based on what is in working order, what needs immediate repair, and where the problem areas are located.

In the plan, multiple budget scenarios can be created. Cities can see what the financial implications are based on different business objectives over different time periods. For instance, they could see how much money they’d need to reach a specific network PCI target or predict the future network PCI based on a particular budget over a set number of years. Exploring various budget options results in sound financial decisions.

The pavement maintenance plan also considers other factors: available funding sources, timing, and sequencing of maintenance activities, coordination with other infrastructure projects, and stakeholder engagement. It provides a roadmap for effectively managing the pavement network, maximizing the longevity of the assets, and optimizing the allocation of resources.

The key is identifying and prioritizing streets and projects requiring pavement maintenance, with a specific emphasis on preservation and rehabilitation efforts. This means a thorough evaluation of pavement condition assessments, traffic volume, and functional classification.

By analyzing these factors, the plan can address the most critical needs. Preservation strategies are prioritized for pavements in relatively good condition protecting them from further deterioration and extending their service life. Rehabilitation/reconstruction efforts, on the other hand, focus on significantly distressed pavements in need of restoration for structural integrity and functional performance. Prioritizing streets and projects in need of maintenance can maximize the lifespan and functionality of the pavement assets.

Enhancing Communication

Maintaining effective communication between public works staff and decision makers is important for successful pavement management. Transparent and accountable governance is fostered through regular communication and keeping them informed about the progress, challenges, and future pavement management initiatives.

Public works supports policymakers by giving them up-to-date information on the condition of the pavement network, ongoing maintenance, and plans. In their budgetary roles, officials rely on this information to allocate resources effectively and align with the municipality's priorities.

Effective communication also fosters community engagement. Elected officials can keep their constituents informed of what public works staff’s operations. This communication channel allows the public to express concerns, perspectives, and feedback, thereby ensuring that pavement management efforts are responsive to community needs.

Communication with officials enables public works staff to garner support and advocate for necessary resources. By effectively conveying the impact of well-maintained pavements on safety, mobility, and overall quality of life, public works staff can rally support from council members for necessary investments in infrastructure improvements.

Regular communication facilitates long-term planning and continuity in pavement management. By discussing plans, budgetary projections, and challenges, policymakers can provide guidance and support. This collaborative approach allows for a shared vision and proactive decision-making, leading to the development of resilient pavement infrastructure. R&B

Hossein Roshani, PhD, PE, is an associate and project manager with Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc.

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