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Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance (2004)


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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23362.
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Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23362.
Page 16
Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23362.
Page 17
Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23362.
Page 18
Suggested Citation:"CHAPTER ONE - INTRODUCTION." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2004. Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/23362.

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3 CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION Maintenance, dictionaries inform us, is the labor that keeps facilities and equipment in a state of repair or working ef- ficiently. For highways and bridges, this labor may entail repairing damage caused by vehicle crashes, catastrophic natural events, or a variety of activities intended to slow or forestall the wear and tear of aging and normal use. Ne- glect of maintenance may accelerate the effects of wear and aging, including early onset of excessively rough pave- ments, corrosion on bridges, and other symptoms of unsat- isfactory system performance. Public policy observers have noted, however, that maintenance often fares poorly in the political process that allocates scarce government re- sources (e.g., see Choate and Walter 1981; The Nation’s Public Works . . . 1986; Committing to the Cost of Owner- ship . . . 1990). Public works historians report that prob- lems of securing road maintenance funds predate the automobile’s invention (History of Public Works . . . 1976). Neglect of maintenance can have dramatic conse- quences. A routine inspection of New York’s now notorious Williamsburg Bridge in 1988 discovered extensive deterioration of the steel girders—altogether some 400 areas where structural conditions required immediate attention. The bridge was closed first to mass transit trains and then to all traffic for 3 months as emergency repairs were made, making news headlines and extensively disrupting the city’s commerce. A 1994 U.S. General Accounting Office survey of pub- lic school officials found that approximately one-third of the nation’s public schools (some 25,000 buildings) needed extensive repair or replacement (School Facilities . . . 1995a); whereas Settlemyer (1998) reported that schools are chronically neglected. An earlier analysis by the Asso- ciation of Physical Plant Administrators of Colleges and Universities judged that the nation’s higher education fa- cilities had accumulated a capital renewal and replacement backlog amounting to 20% or more of the estimated cur- rent value of the inventory (Rush and Johnson 1989). Citing state reviews, the ASCE reported that 2,100 dams in the United States were “unsafe,” with deficiencies that make them highly susceptible to failure (2001 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure 2001). The ASCE called for increased funding for repairs. The FHWA has estimated that a significant fraction of the nation’s federal-aid highway system is in poor, medio- cre, or fair condition (e.g., the 1999 estimate was about 58%), and that similarly many of the system’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete (e.g., nearly 30% in 1998) (1999 Status . . . 2000). The FHWA has re- ported that conditions have improved somewhat over the past several years, a trend attributed by some government staff to the agency’s efforts to encourage appropriate preservation and maintenance activities. The FHWA main- tains an Internet website that presents recent information on the condition of the nation’s pavements and bridges (see Many blame the lack of maintenance, citing several rea- sons for the neglect (e.g., The Nation’s Public Works . . . 1986; Committing to the Cost of Ownership . . . 1990). The long lives and slow aging of highways and other infrastruc- ture mean that the effects of neglect may not be revealed for many years. Policy makers and the public at large, con- fronted with multiple demands for public funds, are easily persuaded to devote resources to issues for which there are vocal constituencies. Maintenance offers few opportunities for responsible officials to garner public recognition and support of the sort that comes when programs are initiated or new facilities are opened for service. Nevertheless, responsible professionals assert that timely maintenance preserves the system; sustains and pro- tects service levels, public safety, and environmental qual- ity; prevents premature structural failures and loses of ser- vice; reduces the severity of losses incurred when elements of the highway system do fail; and reduces the total expen- ditures required to keep the highway system operating (e.g., Pavement Preventive Maintenance Guidelines . . . 2001). In so doing, maintenance is also said to forestall the need to make investments in new facilities by keeping roads open and in good condition and thereby reducing congestion. In the private sector, where maintenance can be linked more directly to facility reliability and company profits, the relationship can be more convincingly asserted (McNeil et al. 2000). FHWA reports indicate that the annual cost of preserv- ing the U.S. National Highway System’s pavements at ex- isting conditions is nearly $50 billion (pavement mainte- nance alone currently totals $25 billion). Improving the system from its current condition to a “good” level (and then, presumably, letting it deteriorate back to current con- ditions by doing nothing more) would cost $200 billion. Greater maintenance spending to prevent deficiencies would then be less costly, proponents assert, than a “fix it

4 only when it’s broken” management approach (Hicks et al. 1999). The Intermodal Surface Transportation Act of 1991 (ISTEA) departed from previous national policy by allow- ing the use of federal highway funds for maintenance ac- tivities as well as new construction and major reconstruc- tion, providing the incentive for highway agencies to enhance their efficiency of service through maintenance- based management strategies. BACKGROUND AND SOURCE OF STUDY Nevertheless, many federal and state officials suggest that poor public understanding of the benefits of maintenance restrains the ability of responsible agencies to adopt effi- cient maintenance-based management strategies. Partici- pants at the 1998 TRB Conference on Transportation Is- sues of Central Cities called for research to “develop information on the benefits of proper maintenance and op- erations and . . . how the benefits can be portrayed to po- litical leaders and the public” (Transportation Issues in Large U.S. Cities 1999, p. 17). That call motivated the definition of a study to be conducted under the auspices of NCHRP. The broad purpose of the study was to prepare a synthe- sis of current practice for identifying, measuring, and pre- senting the public benefits of highway system maintenance and operations, in terms that are understandable and mean- ingful to people who have an interest in the system’s performance—that is, people who are stakeholders. As the study progressed, it became clear that maintenance and re- lated activities should be the focus of the work. “Opera- tions,” meaning such activities as traffic management, in- telligent transportation systems development, and the like presented essentially different issues that could not be ade- quately addressed in this synthesis. The study’s scope was revised to focus on highway system preservation and maintenance, concentrating primarily on pavements and bridges. OBJECTIVES AND SCOPE The objectives of the study were to collect information and assess state highway agencies’ current practices in measur- ing and articulating the benefits of highway system preser- vation and maintenance, including the impacts (generally adverse) of deferring maintenance. Particular emphasis was to be placed on describing methods that agencies use to communicate the benefits of system preservation and maintenance to those in the political process—for example, elected officials and the general public. In addition, the study was to look beyond highways to seek practices from other areas of facility management that might be adapted to highway agency use. Experiences in several states, cities, and private compa- nies give evidence that marketing and public relations ac- tivities are used to highlight maintenance issues and can enhance public awareness of highway conditions and the roles of maintenance in effective system management (Ta- ble 1). Underlying these objectives is the notion that if road us- ers, the public at large, and elected officials really under- stood the benefits of maintenance, they would more readily make available adequate funds for the kinds of mainte- nance programs highway managers feel are needed. Main- tenance generally influences highway service quality—ride roughness, noisiness, safety hazards, and the like—that road users may notice; these characteristics are typically difficult to measure and are perceived differently by dispa- rate individuals. If the managers responsible for mainte- nance could do a better job of measuring and explaining these benefits the attitudes that underlie neglect would change. What then is the state of practice in defining and measuring maintenance benefits and conveying informa- tion about those benefits to technical and nontechnical au- diences so as to influence opinion and decision making in support of maintenance budgets? The study’s final scope specified that consideration be given at least to perform- ance measures, service levels and standards, customer sat- isfaction surveys, marketing, dedicated funding, and legis- lative involvement. Identifying Best Practices This study sought particularly to highlight best practices, those that have been found to be effective in shifting public and legislative opinion. Evidence of success might be found, for example, in budgeting and voting decisions to make funds available for maintenance, or in positive media reports. In the absence of explicit evidence, the following three criteria were used to select practices to be described in this synthesis: 1. They provide credible arguments that maintenance yields benefits that are important to stakeholders, 2. They provide explicit and plausible estimates of the magnitude of those benefits, and 3. They communicate those estimates in terms readily understandable by responsible decision makers and other stakeholders. Focusing on Preventive Maintenance and Preservation This study focuses particularly on activities that highway managers term “preventive maintenance” (PM) or “preser- vation.” AASHTO defines PM as a

5 TABLE 1 EXAMPLES OF DEMONSTRATION AND MARKETING OF MAINTENANCE BENEFITS Activities Adopters Reported Consequences Refs.* Public information and marketing campaigns Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, cities of Cincinnati and Cleveland Improved public relations and political capital, favorable voter outcomes in tax referenda Study, Stein and Sloane 2001 Market research to identify customers, market segments Arizona, Kansas, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia Improved responsiveness to agency communications activities Stein and Sloane 2001, 2003 Mail and telephone surveys of road users to measure customer interest in and satisfaction with road quality or road maintenance activities Arizona, Montana, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, others under auspices of NQI Information used in agency public relations and legislative initiatives Study, Poister et al. 1998, Robinson et al. 2000, Stein and Sloane 2003 Regular customer satisfaction surveys linked to maintenance programming activities Union Pacific Railroad, South Dakota Senior management links maintenance to agency performance and public safety, makes budgeting decisions responsive to customer interests Study, McNeil et al. 2002, Stein and Sloane 2003 Computation of maintenance backlog Oregon Bolstered agency effort supporting voter referendum on gas tax increase Study Explicitly identified and aggressively applied preventive maintenance programs Arizona, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania, TTX Company Extension of time before overlays and reconstruction are required, with consequent life-cycle cost reductions; regulatory approval to extend useful life of autorack cars from 50 years to 65 years Madanat 1997, Galehouse 2002, McNeil et al. 2002 *“Study” refers to communications that were part of the current project. planned strategy of cost-effective treatments to an existing roadway system and its appurtenances that preserves the sys- tem, retards future deterioration, and maintains or improves the functional condition of the system (without substantially increasing structural capacity) (Pavement Preventive Mainte- nance Guidelines . . . 2001). Building from this definition, an AASHTO-sponsored working group defined pavement preservation as the planned strategy of cost-effective pavement treatments to an existing roadway to extend the life or improve the service- ability of the pavement. It is a program strategy intended to maintain the functional or structural condition of the pave- ment. It is the strategy for individual pavements and for opti- mizing the performance of a pavement network (Research Protocols . . . 1999). The term presumably may be similarly applied to bridges and other major highway system components, but at present is used primarily in discussion of pavements. For the purposes of this report the following definitions will be used: • Preventive maintenance (PM)—planned strategy of cost-effective treatments . . . that preserves the sys- tem, retards future deterioration, and maintains or improves the functional condition of the system (without substantially increasing structural capacity). • Preservation—planned strategy of cost-effective . . . treatments . . . to extend the life or improve the ser- viceability; a program strategy intended to maintain the functional or structural condition. As will be discussed in chapter two, how these terms are used in practice varies, even for pavements. Specific activities that highway management personnel undertake—such as seal- ing cracks in the pavement surface or placing an overlay to re- surface a roadway—may be classified as preventive mainte- nance by one agency, preservation or repair by another, or normal or routine maintenance by a third. Government Accounting Standards Board Statement 34, which determines how many government entities conduct their financial reporting, refers simply to annual spending required “to maintain and preserve” facilities “at or above the condition level established” and disclosed by responsi- ble officials as a minimum acceptable (Basic Financial Statements . . . 1999). (That spending is reported in lieu of “depreciation” expenses, an accounting concept that is out- side the scope of this study.) Such spending is considered an immediate expense. Spending that substantially en- hances the capabilities of the facility or extends its antici- pated service life would be considered a capital investment

6 and added to the system’s asset value. Such spending gen- erally is not termed maintenance (Hatry and Liner 1994). The AASHTO definition of preservation encompasses extensions of life and improvements of serviceability. AASHTO’s definition of PM allows for improving “func- tional condition,” but without increasing “structural capac- ity.” These definitions suggest that preservation is a more comprehensive term than PM. However, some highway professionals characterize PM as the broader category (see Figure 1). FIGURE 1 Maintenance, preservation, and preventive maintenance (Source: J. Sorenson, personal communi- cation, June 17, 2002). Both PM and preservation are defined as cost-effective treatments, and many studies have sought to confirm their economic efficiency or, conversely, that their deferral is inefficient (e.g., NCHRP Synthesis of Highway Practice 58 . . . 1979; O’Brien 1989; Geoffroy 1996). Geoffroy’s synthesis, in particular, is a thorough review of research and agency policies on cost-effective pavement PM. However, PM may seem to road users to fly in the face of the popular adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Re- spondents to a survey of state agencies, asked to cite barriers to the adoption of PM programs, frequently mentioned “public perceptions,” a concern that “motorists will not accept” a departure from a conventional “worst first” strategy of giving priority to repairing pavements in the poorest condition before spending to preserve already good conditions (Pavement Preventive Maintenance Guide- lines . . . 2001). Public Benefits Viewed Broadly For maintenance activities to meet the economist’s criteria for being judged cost-effective or efficient, they must pro- duce benefits in excess of their costs. The benefits to be gained include enhanced service, reductions in other costs such as those for vehicle operations or roadway repairs, and mitigation of adverse impacts on the system’s opera- tion. In other words, spending for maintenance now im- proves the future performance of the highway system and thereby yields future public benefits that exceed today’s spending. To compare these several costs and benefits that are realized at different times, analysts typically employ life-cycle cost analysis (LCCA). LCCA is a method for evaluating project design alterna- tives and management strategies taking into account all costs arising from developing, owning, operating, main- taining, and disposing of facilities, equipment, and other assets that the project or strategies entail. The essentials of LCCA are as follows: LCCA compares alternative projects or strategies that have different patterns, over time, of costs and perhaps sav- ings by computing for each an equivalent single-number value. The net present value (NPV) is most commonly used: ∑ =       ++= DSL k kk d ostRecurringCtInitialCosNPV 1 )1( 1 where InitialCost = expenses incurred before the beginning of service (e.g., for planning, design, and construc- tion); RecurringCost = expenses incurred during the period of service (e.g., in year k for operations, maintenance, and repair); may also include road-user costs (e.g., fuel usage, vehicle maintenance and repair, estimated monetary value for safety improvements); savings or other benefits are measured as negative costs; d = discount or interest rate, the time value of money or other resources, typically including consideration of investment riskiness; usually measured as an annual percentage rate; and DSL = design service life or analysis time horizon, usually measured in years. Alternatives are designed to provide comparable levels of service throughout the design service life; the alternative with the lowest LCC, typically measured by total net pre- sent value or equivalent annual value, is most efficient and therefore preferred. The underlying argument in favor of

7 PM and preservation is that management strategies, includ- ing either or both of these activities, will have a lower LCC than those that rely on making repairs after problems occur. Similarly, designs that make provisions for subsequent maintenance activities can avoid costly problems (Ceran and Newman 1992). LCCA is used particularly as an aid to investment deci- sions, and it is required in certain situations to justify fund- ing approvals under federal programs (e.g., projects in- tended to enhance energy efficiency and those that are to be part of the national highway system). As initially devel- oped, LCCA was essentially a financial analysis technique and was applied only to actual monetary costs, and typi- cally only those incurred directly by an entity responsible for developing, operating, and maintaining a facility (Steiner 1996). In recent years, the scope of LCCA has been expanded in analyses of highway pavements and bridges to include costs incurred by others, such as road users’ vehicle operat- ing costs (Watanatada et al. 1987). As will be discussed in chapter two, some analysts view the potential public bene- fits of maintenance very broadly, as they might typically be defined in a highway project’s environmental impact statement; for example, these benefits have financial, eco- nomic, environmental, and social dimensions. Such appli- cations of LCCA may be essentially a comprehensive comparison of economic benefits and costs, that is, a bene- fit–cost analysis. STUDY PROCESS AND CONTENT OF SYNTHESIS REPORT The preparation of this synthesis had three principal ele- ments: 1. Literature review—A search of selected libraries, re- cent professional and trade publications, and sources available on the Internet provided the basis for both the References and the Bibliography. 2. Agency survey—A formal survey was distributed by e-mail to state transportation agencies. The survey questionnaire, presented in Appendix A, was de- signed to elicit information in two areas: (1) the ex- tent to which agencies estimate the public benefits of maintenance and use those estimates in management decision making; and (2) how agencies communicate information on maintenance benefits to senior man- agement, road users, other government officials, and the broader public, and the value they place on this communication. A total of 19 agencies responded, approximately 37% of those receiving the survey. A statistical analysis of survey responses is presented in Appendix B. 3. Interviews and discussion—Informal discussions were conducted with a range of individuals whose perspectives could inform the synthesis. These indi- viduals also provided guidance to the literature and experiences that might indicate best practices. The text of this report is organized as follows: • Chapter two discusses practices for measuring the public benefits of maintenance. The discussion in- cludes what types of benefits are attributed to PM, along with models for how those benefits are related to highway conditions that are susceptible to control through PM activities. • Chapter three considers how benefits, measured or estimated by highway professionals, are communi- cated to and perceived by other stakeholders. • Chapter four looks beyond highway agency practices to methods used in other fields—particularly envi- ronmental economics and product marketing—that might be adapted to present or market the public benefits of highway maintenance to a broad stake- holder audience. • Chapter five presents conclusions pertaining to state of agency practices and whether greater efforts to measure and communicate the public benefits of highway maintenance are warranted.

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TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis 330: Public Benefits of Highway System Preservation and Maintenance examines the current practices for identifying, measuring, and articulating the public benefits of highway system maintenance and operation, and of communicating those benefits that are understandable and meaningful to stakeholders—road users, elected officials, and others who have an interest in the system’s performance.

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