Sunday, March 23, 2014

Road Maintenance and Your Dollars

pot holesLast year as part of my campaign for city council I researched the issue of roads and wrote a post on the subject for my campaign website that I believe has continuing relevance so I am reposting on my regular blog. Here it is:

I recently received a copy of two documents (thank you Devirl Barfuss for filing a GRAMA request to get them) that summarize a road study performed by contractors for the city. The first is a twenty-six page printout of a spreadsheet that contains 1,136 rows which show the condition of all roads in Highland. Each row indicates the grade of the specific section of road, lists the "governing distress", recommended treatment, and an estimated cost to apply the treatment. The second, is a summary of the detailed information that divides the city into five zones. For each zone it breaks down the costs associated with five different grades of roads. 

After going through the data and doing a bit of research here are my observations:

  1. Highland uses different treatments on roads depending on the condition of a given road. The recommendations in the detail data illustrate this and history verifies it. 
  2. Degraded Road Cost ComparisonThere is a significant cost increase to maintain a road as its condition deteriorates. Timely maintenance is cost effective as can be seen in the chart below. The cost to repair roads in their current condition is compared with letting them degrade 1 level (A to B, B to C ...) before repairing.
    Using either grading model (the city's or the one found in the PCI-101 article) the cost of repair goes from roughly $26M to $44M, a 70% increase.
  3. Depending on the summary (see cost comparison below) used there is $3M to $10M of road maintenance that should be done soon to avoid having a road move from a maintenance condition (~$3 / sq. ft.) to one where reconstruction (~$5.50 / sq. ft.) is required. In total $25M to $26M of road work was identified.
  4. There is a clear need to start building a reserve fund to cover road work that cannot be funded out of the normal annual budget if we want to avoid/minimize the need for increasing Highland's debt. 
  5. The information provided by the city gives no time frame for regular maintenance work or major repair/reconstruction activity. This information may exist but thus far I have not seen it.
  6. Determining where to best spend our road budget is complicated. Not only do you have to look at the cost-benefits to keeping roads in a condition where maintenance is easy you need to also consider the timing of building activities adjacent to roads,  traffic rates ... .
  7. That said, from my perspective it is important to develop a road plan that indicates what roads will be worked on when so that (a) we can understand what our cash requirements are and (b) we can have more informed discussions related to tax or fee increases.

PCI and Age of PavementI put copies of the source documents and a spreadsheet version of them online. Before looking at this information let me recommend that you read three short articles. The first, "Pavement Condition Index (PCI) 101", describes the rating system used to identify "the maintenance and rehabilitation needs of roads and help ensure that road maintenance budgets are spent wisely."  The second one, entitled "Pavement Preservation Stretches Ailing Road Budgets" discusses some of the road maintenance options which help preserve roads and reduce the cost of maintaining them. The third, "Micro Surfacing Overcomes Road Failure Challenges", talks about one of the treatments used by Highland to maintain roads.

Now that you've read these documents please feel free to look at the Google spreadsheet, "2012 Road Cost Estimates." It has five sheets that contain the raw data and various summaries as described below:

  1. Data: The raw data from the 26 page report. Rows that are light gray have been double checked for accuracy. Green rows indicate that these road segments (10400 N) using micro surfacing as the treatment. Blue rows indicate road segments (9600 N) approved for reconstruction. Both road projects were approved at the August 6, 2013 city council meeting. 
  2. Zone Summary: Data from the road costs by Zone summary document. Note, I added all the costs for the different grades and they are slightly different from a summary from the detail data. It could be that there were errors in the conversion and/or as Matt Shipp, our city engineer, indicated the detail data might have been updated after the printout was made.
  3. Cost Comparison: This sheet shows the cost summary by grade using the recommended numbers from the "PCI 101" article, compared to the detail data summary, and the zone summary. 
  4. Condition Summary: Compares the cost for each grade between the detailed data and zone data.
  5. Treatment Summary: Shows the cost for each type of road treatment found in the detailed data. Note, I show the min, max, and average for each treatment type. I was concerned because there was a fairly sizable range in the cost per square foot for the various treatment types when I calculated the per square foot cost for each road segment. I asked Matt Shipp about this and he said that although the recommended treatment for a given road section might be the same, cost differences exist because each road segment requires a different amount of preparatory work before the final road treatment can be applied.

Note, you can look at scanned copies of the two source documents by clicking on the links below:

  1. 26 page road study summary
  2. 6 page summary of costs by zone (includes a 1 page cost summary and then maps of the five zones).

Also, our neighboring city, Alpine, is generally considered to be a fiscally conservative city the takes care of its roads well. A comparison between Highland and Alpine 2012-2013 road maintenance budgets shows that Alpine spends +38% more per mile on maintenance than Highland does.


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