Cape Seals Power Pulaski County PCI Boost, Winning FP2’s 2023 Sorenson Award

At left, Judge Barry Hyde, Pulaski County, Ark., county executive, accepts on behalf of the county FP2’s prestigious James B. Sorenson Award for Excellence in Pavement Preservation from FP2 president Mark Ishee, at National Pavement Preservation Conference 2023 (NPPC23) in September 2023

Pulaski County, Ark., is the recipient of the 2023 FP2 Inc. James B. Sorenson Award for Excellence in Pavement Preservation, thanks to its innovative 2022 Road Improvement Project.

The Sorenson Award is presented by FP2 Inc. to recognize superior pavement preservation and recycling practice, usually to a city, township, county or state agency.

The award criteria include

  • Acceptance of pavement preservation and recycling concept by elected officials, general public, employees and industry (40 percent)
  • Demonstration of the preservation principles by using the philosophy of the Right Treatment, on the Right Road, at the Right Time (20 percent)
  • Use of communication techniques to keep the public notified about upcoming preservation road work in the area (10 percent), and
  • Uniqueness of the program, including documenting tangible benefits such as increased useable life of the pavement, new concepts or applications employed, reduced user delays during treatment applications, and decreased frequency of reconstruction and major rehabilitation or reconstruction (30 percent).

Located in central Arkansas, and with the cities of Little Rock, Sherwood, Maumelle, Jacksonville and North Little Rock, Pulaski is the state’s most populous county. It boasts the highest road ratings due to its superior pavement management program, which utilizes cape seals to improve the county’s pavement condition index (PCI).

The county’s road network is managed by its Road and Bridge Department (RBD) and includes 145 bridges and 1,300 lane miles of road. Approximately 800 lane miles of its network are rural roads with chip seal surfaces, and 500 lane miles are topped with hot mix asphalt.

To ensure its system of roads remained at or above an acceptable level, Pulaski County RBD would often chip-seal roads that did not display any visible cracking.

That’s the mindset of Pulaski County, said Shane Ramsey, Pulaski County Road and Bridge director. “From truckers to senior drivers, our roads are used by everyone,” Ramsey says. “We focus our efforts on understanding that by the time a road shows a distress, you are beyond the preventive point.” Still, nearly half of Pulaski County’s roads prior to 2023 were rated “fair.”

Utilizing a newly adopted PMS, the county conducted a data-driven assessment of every road. Following a year of required evaluation time, a state-of-the-art customized network-level assessment of the county’s road network was completed in 2016, with PCI ratings assigned to each road. Utilizing this data, the RBD team began addressing the problems, in particular with cape seals, a new surfacing treatment for both the county and the state at the time.

A cape seal is a combination of treatments used to provide long-term protection of underlying road layers and a durable wearing surface. Cape seal combinations include chip seal and slurry seal systems, and, for roads exhibiting more severe mass cracking, rejuvenating scrub seal and high-polymer micro surfacing.

As of May 2023, over 50 percent of Pulaski County’s roads have moved from “fair” condition to “good” condition. In 2022, only 1 percent of the county’s roads were rated “excellent,” compared to over 15 percent today.

Since the project, the county’s overall network PCI rating has increased nearly 10 points, from 75.3 to 83.7, ranking its roads among the highest in the state, which the RBD credits to the implementation of cape seals in its road improvement project.

Also, taxpayer dollars were stretched further as a result of applying the cape seals. At the time of the project, the average cost of a hot mix overlay was between $185,000 and $200,000 per mile, more than twice the cost of the county’s cape seal bid

The James B. Sorenson award is named after Jim Sorenson (1949-2009) , who was senior construction and system preservation engineer, FHWA Office of Asset Management, and a great champion of pavement preservation at the national level. The pavement preservation industry had no greater friend, and FP2 honors Jim’s memory with the Sorenson Award. The deadline for entries for the current year is July 1, 2024.