Pawlenty's Poor Road Maintenance
The quality of roads under Governor Pawlenty's leadership is declining. This is how much life our roads have left before they need to be replaced. The downward trend is bad. Click on the image for a larger image.
Here is a graph of the number of poor roads. The upward trend is bad. Click on the image for a larger image.
Both graphs are from the MNDOT Executive Summary.
Minnesota used to be well known for its high quality roads, not any longer! Roads are the basic government service of the state, key to the economy. Basically a number of tips have been sent my way, that highlights that Governor Pawlenty has truly failed at basic leadership of just maintaining our roads:
- to save building costs, the state used cheaper building products that will end up costing more in whole life cycle costs because of high maintenance
that road maintenance has not been keeping up, which means higher overall costs because a small inexpensive repair now becomes an expensive repair later on
that new laws and new rules have been increasing load limits, while NAFTA free trade agreements have increased the number of goods coming. This means more heavy weight vehicles wearing out our roads faster.
Even four years ago, we knew that our roads were declining badly!
All around Minnesota, state-maintained roads are falling into disrepair faster than in the past. Thirty-five percent, officials say, are in the too-far-gone category and have to be rebuilt...
Janisch says highway life expectancy in Minnesota is 30 to 50 years with proper maintenance.
The state's official measurement of road quality is called the pavement index. Every year MnDOT checks the state's roads with cameras and lasers for cracks, ridges and other problems. The numbers are crunched and boiled down to a graph.
The trend line on the pavement index graph was heading up, showing improving road quality until a few years ago. Then it leveled off, and now, Dave Janisch says, the line is heading down, showing the state's roads are deteriorating faster than they can be fixed. He says the trend is new.
"I would say it's probably the first time in the last 20 years that we've had three consecutive years of decline," he says.
What's causing the faster road deterioration?
Increased traffic is one reason. Janisch says more vehicles are using the roadways. "There's a lot of areas in the metro where the traffic growth has far exceeded what was planned," he says. "So the road never quite makes it to the end of its expected life before it needs some kind of maintenance."
Road experts say skimping on maintenance ends up costing rather than saving money.
Consulting highway engineer Dave Sonnenberg says avoiding routine maintenance makes road problems worse and more expensive to fix. Over time, he says, failure to fix the problems sets up an expensive cycle. "The farther you go down on that curve, the more it costs to maintain and renew, and then the less money of course that you have to put into capital renewal because you're putting more and more money into maintenance," he says.
(Dan Olson, MPR)
The first most important ingredient of long term lower cost road maintenance, is that the maintenance is applied in a prompt continuous way. This is basic knowledge, Maintenance 101.
The second most important ingredient of long term lower cost road maintenance is building the roads properly to begin with. This will mean higher costs initially and also lower costs over the whole life of the road.
It is very easy to find that there are better ways of building roads to last longer and cost less over the whole lifetime:
Established as part of the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP) and now managed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), LTPP was designed as a partnership with the States and Provinces. LTPP's goal is to help the States and Provinces make decisions that will lead to better performing and more cost-effective pavements.
(Federal Highway Administration)
So then the question becomes "Are we using the best techniques?" So I wrote to Minnesota Department of Transportation(MNDOT). Here is the reply:
When we have the opportunity to re-construct or construct new pavements, there are materials that do last longer. The new stretch of TH 312 (soon to be TH 212) from Chaska to Eden Prairie includes several technologies that will help the pavement last longer. The mix designs used for the jointed Portland cement concrete pavements required special chemistry that will be more durable than concretes of the past. The west end is a hotmixed asphalt pavement with a surfacing using a highly polymer modified asphalt cement that has shown the ability to resist cracking and deformation. This type of asphalt has been in use in Minnesota for about six years and has performed above expectations.
While these new technologies work well when we start with a clean slate as in a newly constructed pavement, they are not magic. They have not shown the ability to overcome the deficiencies we are often faced with when we do a rehabilitation project.
In-place condition, budget, anticipated performance of the fix and the traffic disruptions are all considerations when we determine the type of fix to construct.
(from email with permission)
I interpret this answer to be, that we don't have the opportunity to rebuild properly, so we are in a vicious cycle of constant maintenance.
The third most important ingredient of long term lower cost road maintenance is keeping heavier weighted vehicles off the road. Since the Republicans are for no new taxes, this certainly should have been a priority.
Weight really matters to road maintenance:
According to the AASHO Road Test, heavily loaded trucks can do more than 10,000 times the damage done by a normal passenger car. Tax rates for trucks are higher than those for cars in most countries for this reason, though they are not levied in proportion to the damage done.
So what has been happening with weight limits?
"Veto" nicknamed Governor Pawlenty could have easily prevented these increased weight limits, if he wanted to. These increased weight limits may be a good idea for business and justified, however then a responsible governor would ask for more taxes to maintain roads under increased limits. That certainly didn't happen.
And then there are permits to go overweight:
Mn/DOT expects it will be able to issue summer overweight permits about three weeks after normal weight limits are restored in each zone.
So would we take this lack of maintenance responsibility from any business CEO or any other governor? In the city, if we had let our property get as run down as our state roads, then we would be fined. To me, there is no greater waste than the state's lack of proper maintenance on our roads. (sarcasm alert) Especially since replacing all of the roads is so cheap and doesn't bother anyone when we do it!(end sarcasm alert)