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FHWA Expert Task Group Defines World-Class Preservation Program

Tuesday, December 5, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kristi Olson

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2017 issue of Pavement Preservation Journal of FP2 Inc. For more information, visit

By James Gray

Transportation agencies at all levels -- including states, counties and municipal governments -- juggle multiple priorities while trying to preserve and manage their roadway networks. Many agencies find themselves stuck in a “worst-first” approach to pavements that doesn’t allow for the development of strong preservation programs. Others may take a more proactive approach, but are missing key components that would allow for optimal performance of their program.

To assist agencies in identifying gaps within their pavement preservation programs, the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Pavement Preservation Expert Task Group has developed a top 10 list of characteristics that are associated with a “world-class” pavement preservation program. This list was developed from nationwide surveys of transportation officials, industry partners, and other pavement preservation groups.

Items not on the list may be essential for some agencies, and agencies lacking some of these characteristics may still have successful programs. However, it was the consensus of the group that agencies exhibiting nearly all of these characteristics would generally be considered as having a “world-class” preservation program. All items that made the list are important but are listed by priority, with No. 1 being the most important.


The Pavement Preservation Expert Task Group plans a series of follow-up articles that dive deeper into the details of each characteristic and highlight agencies that are recognized leaders in each area.

1. The program has dedicated and consistent funding. Dedicated funding means that funds cannot be diverted into other programs that are not focused on preservation. Consistency means those funds are reasonably similar from one year to the next and are therefore predictable. Having dedicated and consistent funding allows agencies to develop preservation plans so actions occur at the right time in the pavement’s condition cycle. This also allows the agency to develop and maintain a healthy contracting workforce, as contractors need to be able to plan on a stream of work and to acquire equipment and develop their workforce around that expectation.

2. The preservation program has support from all levels within the agency.

It's important there is a good understanding and appreciation of the need for a strong pavement preservation program throughout the agency. Part of this support includes having an agency champion, who is willing to speak out on the benefits of preservation over a prolonged period. Agency senior leadership should understand and support the value of preservation and the cost/benefit associated with keeping roads in good condition. Local decision makers should be able and willing to answer the questions from the public, such as “Why are you treating that good road when my road is in much worse shape?” Also, workers on preservation projects should understand why they are performing the work they are doing and work to make every project successful.

3. Project selection and execution is based on objective data, proven guidelines, or decision matrices, and network economics. When decisions are data driven, it is easier to explain them to city councils or boards, citizen groups, and others in a way that is impartial. Agencies will be better able to gain support if they can demonstrate that treatment selection is based on an objective methodology identifying how the use of specific treatments is linked to pavement condition, traffic levels, and other factors.

Legislators and members of the public want to know, and need to know, that public monies are being well spent, and there is an objective method used to make decisions. Guidelines and decision matrices can demonstrate that a lower cost option is appropriate when the pavement is in good condition, but that a costlier option will be required if the condition is allowed to deteriorate.

When an agency first begins to develop a pavement preservation program, it may be necessary to rely on national or regional research for their performance and cost data. As an agency’s preservation program matures and experience is gained regarding the performance and cost of specific treatments, guidelines should evolve to reflect that local experience. As a result, not every agency will have the same guidance for its selection process.

4. The agency uses a variety of treatments covering a range of conditions to address pavement preservation needs. A successful preservation program does not consist of only one or two treatment options, but rather a range of treatments with appropriate selection criteria to match pavement condition needs. At the same time, funding should be flexible enough to allow an agency to try new treatments. Agencies should have options that allow for treatments to be applied throughout the pavement life cycle rather than just near the end of the pavement life. This allows for a more flexible and robust program.

5. Knowledgeable agency and contract personnel are assigned to every preservation project. Many preservation treatments require real-time adjustments to achieve success. Based on temperature, wind speed, and humidity, the emulsion application rate may increase or decrease. A portion of the roadway may be more or less oxidized, requiring another adjustment. Similarly, aggregates may contain a range of fines and require adjustments during construction. The contractor or agency performing the work themselves needs to have knowledgeable people at the site to make those adjustments. At the same time, agency inspectors must be knowledgeable to identify issues and insure quality of the preservation treatment. Having one or two trained personnel back at the office does not meet this important need.

Unless an agency is capable of performing all preservation work using their own forces, a sufficient pool of qualified contractors willing and able to apply preservation treatments is needed. When agencies have used their own forces to perform preservation work for many years, or if an agency has not utilized a wide range of treatment options, it may take several years for contractors to develop experience in these tasks. For contracted work, an agency should ensure availability of properly trained inspection staff.

6. The agency uses a pavement management system (PMS) to track distress, identify current and future preservation needs, and identify candidate roadways for preservation. A modern PMS can be used to track the development of specific distresses and to develop performance curves that can be used to predict future conditions. This allows agencies to move beyond a one-year action plan to a three- to five-year plan.

Agencies with a PMS then can strategically plan their use of maintenance and preservation funds. For example, they may rework shoulders and ditches and crack seal two years before preservation, do minor patching one year before preservation, and complete the cycle on the roadway with a surface treatment or thin overlay in the third year.

A pavement management system may also be used to develop candidate roads for preservation. By querying the system, a basic list of roads can be developed that is independent of calls to the local maintenance yard. Agencies must be responsive to complaints from the public, but a successful preservation program relies on proactive rather than reactive treatments for most roadways selected for treatment. Agencies that do not have access to a sophisticated PMS software program can still be successful in this area if they measure and track pavement performance over time, along with detailed treatment application and cost data.

7. Pavement preservation is part of the agency’s asset management plan.

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) (Section 1106) required, and the subsequent Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) continued the requirement that states develop asset management plans outlining how they will fund and maintain their infrastructure over a 10-year period. Under 23 CFR 515, State DOTs must conduct, among other items, risk analyses, gap analysis, and life-cycle planning as part of their plan.

8. Stakeholders are educated and informed on the benefits of the pavement preservation program and treatments. Members of the public understand maintenance of their cars and their homes. They do not necessarily think about the maintenance and preservation needs of pavements and roadways, so educating them is key to program support. When they call an agency to see when their road will be resurfaced, it is important that agency personnel can communicate that while it may not be on this year’s program, it is scheduled for a subsequent year and that in the meantime, the agency is taking steps to make sure the road is ready for that future resurfacing. Agencies should take advantage of interactions with stakeholders not only to answer questions, but also to explain the agency’s program. Agencies should also work to keep stakeholders informed when a treatment is about to be placed. This can help avoid complaints and tort claims and is an important part of being a good neighbor.

9. The agency has a well-documented material specifications, testing program, and approval process. When contractors know what is expected in terms of material specifications and how work will be tested and approved, they can bid more confidently for the preservation work. In addition, having well-documented specifications and testing procedures eliminates uncertainty for both the agency and the contractor. This does not mean that the specifications or testing procedures cannot change. If a specification is not working as it should, then it should be changed. If the approval process results in the acceptance of work that does not perform well, then the agency needs to reassess its practices and make sure that it is measuring the items that most closely relate to long term performance. Collecting input from contractors and material suppliers can be helpful in developing usable specifications and testing programs.

10. Performance of preservation treatments is tracked and used to modify preservation plans. Pavement management tools are used to develop a plan over a number of years. The plan is then implemented using meaningful specifications, testing, and approval. The final step is to monitor the roadways to see if performance meets the expectations established when the plan was developed.

For example, if a plan is developed with an expectation of seven to eight years of performance from a surface treatment, but monitoring reveals that the agency is only getting five to six years, changes may be needed. It may be necessary to improve material specifications or change construction processes to obtain the expected performance life. Conversely, the treatment selection process may need to be reevaluated to account for the reduced performance life.

Performance and design expectations should be linked in any sound preservation program. This includes conducting forensic investigations of treatments that fail earlier than expected. Treatments should not be removed from the toolbox because of a small number of failures. Instead, those projects should be evaluated so that agencies may learn from them and then modify selection criteria, specifications, testing, or acceptance criteria so the treatment can be retained while minimizing risks.

Learn more about FHWA’s pavement preservation efforts and the ETG at:


Gray is associated with the FHWA Office of Infrastructure, and is co-chairman of the Pavement Preservation ETG. The Pavement Preservation ETG thanks Larry Galehouse and Judith Corley-Lay with the National Center for Pavement Preservation for polling the regional preservation partnerships for the prioritization of the top 10 list. Sixty-five responses were received, of which 75 percent represented state or provincial agencies, 8 percent represented material suppliers, and the remainder came from other interest groups. The ETG also wishes to thank Jon Wilcoxson with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Steve Lund with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and Richard Turner with the Charleston County Transportation Development Department for their efforts in preparing this article. 

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