MAY 1987 Better Roads
By Ruth W. Stidger, Editor-in-Chief
Better technical leadership is needed in public works. This fact repeatedly comes to the forefront of almost any after-session conversation at meetings where highway department officials gather.
“I was 26 years old and just two years out of college when the Director of Public Works first asked me to look at a street and tell him how to fix it,” one engineer told me recently.
“Having no college training in pavement design or in rehabilitation, I was surprised that my recommendation to overlay was accepted and implemented without question. The following spring, I was even more surprised to find my project in pieces. It was totaled!”
How did this mistake happen? How could the more senior public works manager let it happen? Wasn’t the $60,000 per mile that was spent too much money to throw away on a project that was doomed to failure, because it had been designed by an engineer without the needed technical expertise?
The people in the United States own four million miles of roads. About $10 billion is spent per year maintaining these roads. Too much of that is spent in just such a fashion as the project described.
“The judgment of a more experienced staff person may be used sometimes,” the engineer told me, “but arbitrary judgment is the norm. If you ask where the experienced person gained the knowledge to make these judgments, it comes from the school of hard knocks. And the tuition is $60,000 per mile.”
What could put a stop to waste of this sort? The answer is evolution of new scientific methodologies that systematically lead us to the correct solution more often. Private companies are developing such technical leadership for our highways. Their technology is called pavement management.
Now, it is time for governmental leadership. A pavement management system can tie together all of the aspects of managing the bridges and roads within each geographical area, ensuring that hard-won funding is used to build and maintain our transportation system as effectively as possible. For only a small portion of the total budget, states, counties, and cities can put the methods to work — determining what methods of repair are best, when they are needed for greatest effect, and how to spend that $60,000 per mile to rebuild a road that will last for five years, rather than five months.Articles about pavement management have appeared often in Better Roads, and more will appear in the months ahead. If you want specific, detailed information, write us, and we will try to obtain it for you. You are needed — to be the leaders in accepting this new technology — and in using it.