Preparing for the Next Transformation in Pavement Management
Zimmerman, Kathryn A.
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Since the initial development of a systems approach for managing pavements in the late 1970's and early 1980's, there have been tremendous changes in the way transportation agencies have designed, constructed, and managed their pavement networks. In just the past 10 years, transportation agencies have been introduced to new mechanistic-empirical design programs, methods of determining the sustainability of different pavement designs, equipment capable of collecting 3-D pavement surface characteristics and 1 mm crack widths at traffic speeds, and web-access to pavement databases on handheld devices virtually anywhere in the world. During the same time period, many transportation agencies have been forced to shift from a focus on system expansion to system preservation as funding tightened and large portions of the infrastructure network reached the end of their design life. In some cases, transportation agencies have outsourced maintenance, design, and construction functions as agencies downsize in response to economic realities. In addition, recent legislation places more of an emphasis on system preservation with a focus on performance-based decisions that consider costs of the whole life of an asset. Some might consider the magnitude and breadth of these changes to be transformational to the field of pavement management. However, to be truly transformational, pavement management practitioners must take advantage of the new developments and technology to shift from the traditional role of pavement management for assessing, reporting, and prioritizing pavement needs to a broader role that supports a range of uses beyond those originally intended in the early pavement management systems. The broader applications of pavement management and the changes that will be needed will be a primary focus of this presentation. To put these changes in context, earlier transformations that have shifted the practice of pavement management will be explored beginning with the AASHO Road Test that took place from 1956 to 1960. The decision of the road test staff to develop a method for evaluating the performance of pavements in a way that was independent of pavement type and could be applied universally to describe pavement condition represents the first transformation in the development of pavement management. The next transformation occurred in 1970 at a workshop organized by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Highway Research Board (now known as the Transportation Research Board) where a systems engineering approach that was based on mathematical solutions to optimize decisions was first suggested nationally as a viable approach for making decisions about pavement maintenance and rehabilitation actions. A third transformational period occurred in the 1990s when technological advancements made it possible to collect large quantities of data quickly, to analyze the data on desk-top computers, and to present information visually using maps and other display techniques. This presentation will consider how the lessons learned from past transformations can be used to provide insight into the changes that are needed today to make the next round of advancements in pavement management a reality and to lead to a more sustainable program in the future.