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Better Roads for Better Budgets

Critical concepts to improve roads while stretching budgets further

By Lindsay Matush 

Often, a community’s most valuable asset is its roadway network. Yet America has a failing infrastructure problem because caring for this asset is often an afterthought. Today, some agencies across America are taking a new approach: proactively improving roads, decreasing downtimes, reducing environmental impact and creating drastic budget efficiencies. 

For example: LA County, California increased their average network condition by 10 points in 10 years, saved $29 million and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 32,000 tons. Elmore County, Alabama saw an 89% increase in roads in good condition over 11 years. Lexington, Massachusetts Improved average overall network condition by 17 points in 10 years and reduced roads in poor condition by 24%.

How are They Doing it?

By changing their approach to their networks, using some simple concepts.  

Pavement Preservation: Keeping Good Roads Good

Many agencies practice a “worst first” approach to roadway management. Each year, they identify roads that need to be replaced and spend the entire budget on a few of the worst roads using some of the most costly treatments. Meanwhile, the good roads in the network get a little closer to failure, and every year the overall network condition worsens. It’s a bit like never changing the oil in your car but changing the engine every time it fails. The concept of pavement preservation, conversely, much like oil changes, is a preventative approach to keeping the roads in your network in good condition with a series of treatments that significantly prolong pavement life.

A typical asphalt road is designed to last 12 to 20 years but deteriorates faster as it ages, making costly treatments the only option. By using less expensive preservation treatments earlier in a pavement’s life to keep moisture out, seal cracks, reduce oxidation, restore friction, etc., an agency can keep good roads in good condition. For context, on average, every $2 spent on a good road, or $4-$8 spent on a fair road, will save $12-$18 spent on a poor road. High-performing agencies use a robust arsenal of pavement preservation and recycling treatments to protect their investment and make “worst first” thinking a thing of the past.

Asphalt Recycling: Reusing the Resources You’ve Already Paid For

When roads are past the point of preservation, agencies can recycle or reclaim the existing pavement. In many cases, recycling can be done in place for huge environmental benefits and massive cost savings, frequently up to 50%. Asphalt recycling significantly reduces downtime and minimizes the impact on surrounding roads caused by heavy truck traffic bringing old asphalt out and new asphalt in. Done properly, these treatments can leave a road stronger than the alternative by addressing underlying cracks in the pavement that will otherwise reflect and cause premature failure in new asphalt.

Treatment Toolbox: The Right Treatment on the Right Road at the Right Time

Agencies looking to better their network must broaden their “Treatment Toolbox,” the suite of treatments they use for their roads. Many use just a few regular “go-tos” like Mill-and-Fill, Thin Lift or “traditional” Remove and Replace. The high performing agencies listed above regularly deploy well over 10 different preservation and recycling treatments. Any professional will tell you it’s critical to use the right treatment on the right road at the right time, and trying new treatments is important for stretching resources further.

Life Cycle Cost: Savings That Snowball Over Time 

By combining preservation and recycling treatments, agencies are getting 40+ years of life or more out of their roads. No matter where the pavement is in its life cycle, a network-minded approach can be applied for tremendous savings over the long haul. A hypothetical scenario using a real pavement management strategy showed a 100-mile network saving $126M over 50 years, while keeping its roads in far better condition and reducing downtime for travelers.

RoadResource.org is a free website, built by the Pavement Preservation and Recycling Alliance (PPRA), an industry leader dedicated to helping agencies be the best possible stewards of their roadway networks & taxpayer dollars. PPRA unites leaders from the Asphalt Emulsion Manufacturers Association, the Asphalt Recycling & Reclaiming Association and the International Slurry Surfacing Association.

Lindsay Matush is the CEO of Vario and the Lead Strategist behind RoadResource. She can be reached at lindsay@hellovario.com.

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