Impact of performance goal on the needs of highway infrastructure maintenance



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Performance goals for a highway system are an indication of the desired system condition, and the level of service to be provided to its users. Setting the appropriate performance goals has a significant impact on the way highway agencies conduct business. With growing needs and limited resources, the consequences of setting different levels of performance goals should be examined and compared to optimize the highway infrastructure needs at the network level.

Three interacting sets of costs are typically considered for a complete economic appraisal of highway projects: construction, maintenance and road use costs. Due to the shift in focus from design-and-build mode to the repair-and-maintain mode, this study focuses on maintenance related costs and the road user cost aspects only. Maintenance and rehabilitation activities on pavement infrastructure are ongoing processes that are required for the entire road network. This suggests that for long planning horizons and geographically extensive networks, their application usually results in significant financial needs. Typically, highway agencies have based their policy decisions such as the target condition levels for the system on the budget needs for maintenance and rehabilitation actions.

Since in most cases, the funding needs exceed the available budget, the required preventive and routine maintenance activities suffer or are overlooked completely. Failure to timely apply these maintenance actions cause the pavements to deteriorate more rapidly into condition states that require for more expensive rehabilitation actions during the life cycle of the pavement. Over time, a vicious cycle is instigated in which the maintenance and rehabilitation needs of the network keep increasing each year. Although most highway administrators acknowledge the fact that pavement preservation is perhaps the most effective way of using the limited budgets available, the costs associated with deferring maintenance actions is oftentimes overlooked when establishing performance goals for the system.

Road user costs in the form of costs for vehicle operation have been recognized as another large component of the total transportation related costs. These costs are then arguably the most important to consider for a complete economic appraisal. Ironically, they are also often disregarded while making important policy decisions. Other road user costs such as those related to the impact of traffic congestion and detours caused by construction and maintenance activities are difficult to quantify and were not accounted for in this study.

Although it is widely accepted that establishing suitable performance goal is critical for system maintenance and preservation, a framework that considers the inter-relationship between conflicting objectives of minimum maintenance and rehabilitation costs, deferred maintenance costs, and vehicle operating costs to the users does not exist. This thesis proposes a methodological framework that is aimed at assisting highway agencies with the problem of objectively analyzing policy decisions in terms of the performance goals for their highway networks that would minimize the total transport costs to the society. In a case study of the proposed framework, the highway network managed by the Texas Department of Transportation was examined for different performance goals. The results from the case study indicate that setting lower performance goals lead to savings in the M&R needs, but at the same time, they also significantly increase the exogenous costs such as deferred maintenance costs and the vehicle operating costs.