Elmore County, Ala., is the recipient of the 2021 James B. Sorenson Award for Excellence in Pavement Preservation, presented by FP2 Inc.
The Sorenson Award recognizes superior pavement preservation practice, and usually is presented to a city, township, county or state agency. The deadline for entries for the year 2022 is July 1, 2022. The 2020 Sorenson Award was presented to Town of Lexington, Mass., at the historic Lexington Battle Green.
Elmore County has increased the number of roads in good or better condition from 45 percent in 2004 to 75 percent in 2021, using various pavement preservation treatments, among other methods.
“With the full support from the county commission, the county was able to develop a plan to first ensure the roads stay in good shape, and then allocate funds toward treating a percentage of the bad roads,” says Elmore County’s chief operations officer Richie Beyer. “This was not just one program, but a completely new approach to maintenance. Moving from a worst-first approach to a more proactive program has allowed the citizens of our county to enjoy better roads throughout the county.”
“The concept of pavement preservation is one the Elmore County Commission has embraced,” says commission chairman Troy Stubbs. “Being proactive in addressing our road and bridge infrastructure is a key principle of our staff and the county commission. Given our resource limitations, it only makes sense to manage our system under the principles of pavement preservation to maximize the investments being made with our citizens.”
“From the support and buy-in at the county commissioner level, to the innovation and development of the program at the engineering and maintenance level, the establishment and success of this program wouldn’t have happened without a cooperative team environment,” Beyer says. “Commissioners have to be able to explain why a good or fair road receives work before a really poor-condition road in many cases.
“Our staff is challenged every day to improve and evaluate each and every process we implement, so we can be as progressive in our maintenance activities as possible,” Beyer adds. “It’s tough when people don’t understand the overall goal, but when you look at the overall data, advancements are being made with a fraction of the resources needed to address all our needs.”
PAVEMENT INVENTORY FIRST
Elmore County has been faced with the challenge of finding cost-effective means to maintain its roadways and keep commuters safe, while staying within a limited budget. The county has 1,000 miles of roadway, of which 800 are paved, and 200 unpaved.
When Beyer first joined the department as county engineer in 2003, his focus was to develop a solution that would allow them to make the best use of its budget while strategically bringing more roads in their network up to good condition.
Beyer and his team hit the ground running, conducting an inventory of the conditions of each road within the county’s network, and speaking with stakeholders about the benefits of pavement preservation.
Beyer has long served as a champion of pavement preservation and credits Larry Galehouse, P.E., former director of the National Center for Pavement Preservation, for educating him on the concept and best practices.
As Beyer evaluated the county’s strategies for maintaining the road network, he knew that to get more county roads up to a good or better condition, there would need to be a change in mindsets and practices. This change would begin with educating stakeholders, specifically the commissioners, on how much more money they could allocate to fixing more miles in the network if they were more strategic about how roads in distress were treated.
Beyer even enlisted the help of Galehouse in his efforts to educate the commissioners, maintenance crews, engineers and more on the importance of pavement preservation. Commissioners were open to learning about this concept, knowing that better roads could lead to happier citizens.
END TO ‘WORST-FIRST’
“You won’t be able to catch up if you’re always fixing the worst first,” says Beyer. “We developed a plan to first ensure the good roads stay good, and then allocate funds toward treating a percentage of the bad roads. We’re not talking about just one program, but a completely new approach to maintenance.”
As is the case with most agencies not familiar with the preservation concept, Elmore County was used to the “fix the worst roads first” mentality. And paving was the main method for fixing these roads. However, this only provided a temporary fix, as the county was not addressing distresses, but only polishing over them with asphalt. This resulted in distresses reappearing in the same sections almost every two years. Such practices can lead to depleted budgets and worsening network conditions.
Beyer and the Elmore engineering group also set up trial projects in areas throughout the network, presented findings to commissioners, and recommended cost-effective treatments that would yield longer-term results than continual paving. With these methods, multiple preservation, maintenance and rehabilitation treatments have been considered, tested and/or accepted by the county commissioners as part of strategic pavement management efforts in their respective areas.
“Our goal was and still is to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to maintaining our roads,” Beyer says. “We were very strategic about the roads we chose for trials. We didn’t just pick any road without knowing how a treatment might help improve its performance.”
Additionally, Beyer and crew have continued to conduct an inventory of their county roads, including their conditions, every two years since completing their first in 2004. The county’s roads are rated on a scale from 0 to 100.
One thing Beyer understood from the beginning was that every treatment might not work for every road. But because they have been able to prove the worth of pavement preservation, maintenance and rehabilitation with regard to cost and road performance, commissioners have been more willing to test new treatments over the years to determine what products can be added to the Elmore County toolbox. Over time and trial projects, and using the empirical inventory data, commissioners have been able to see firsthand how the different treatments implemented on the right road at the right time have helped the county improve overall network conditions.
Elmore County has moved on from its worst-first, overlay-only method for improving performance and appearance. They have implemented the use of various applications, including wearing surface treatments such as chip seal and micro surfacing to protect and preserve underlying pavement, increasing service life by many years per treatment.
Micro surfacing in particular typically provides six to eight years or more of extended service life, while chip seals extend service life from five to seven years.
Since 2004, the county has been able to raise the number of roads grading 80 and above from 336.8 miles in 2004 (45 percent) to 617.69 miles in 2021 (75 percent). The goal for Beyer and the commissioners is to treat and preserve enough roads in their network that those in poor condition fall to 10 percent and below.
Of the treatments tested, the county has since implemented the regular use of chip seals, micro surfacing, slurry seals, cape seals (chip/micro and scrub/micro), and full depth reclamation (FDR) patch paving/rehabilitation.
They have also tried fog seals and thin lift overlays; however, full depth reclamation and chip sealing make up the bulk of the treatments used on roads throughout their network today.
One of the main treatments that Elmore roads have benefited from since 2004 is chip sealing. This treatment has proven to provide enhanced durability following FDR rehabilitation projects. It is also applied in a technique known as chip seal patching, which serves as an alternative to overlays on some small road sections experiencing minor distress. Chip seal patching provides additional service life to roads.
The county applies most small projects (like chip seals) in-house. Larger jobs are contracted out. “Making the most efficient and effective use our of our road budget and our time, while also providing safe driving conditions for our citizens, is what we strive for,” Beyer added. “Strategic applications of pavement preservation treatments have helped and continue to help us reach these goals.”
“The concept of pavement preservation has been one that the Elmore County Commission has embraced,” says commission chairman Stubbs. “Being proactive in addressing our road and bridge infrastructure is a key principle to our staff and the county commission. Given our resource limitations, it only makes sense to manage our system under the principles of pavement preservation to maximize the investment being made by our citizens.”
Adapted from material provided by Elmore County, and Ergon Asphalt & Emulsions, Inc., which nominated Elmore County for the Sorenson Award.