Imagine driving up to a university campus for the first time. Stately buildings basking in the sunshine, a quadrangle filled with trees and the bustle of eager students, knowledge, and opportunity waiting behind the doors – and a crumbling parking lot. Potholes filled with asphalt heaps. Snaking cracks streaked with sealant. Curb cuts eaten by weather and traffic. Suddenly, you’re not feeling so enthusiastic.

Why is it that schools and universities spend so much on building maintenance but not on pavement maintenance? Most almost always have a plan for roofs, as obviously roofs have a higher priority. Pavement concerns are usually way down the list. The path to quality roads and surfaces is paved with good intentions – but it should be paved with a sound plan for maintenance and repair. It’s just like the teacher told you: failing to plan is planning to fail.

The concept of pavement management is not new. “Organizations just don’t necessarily think about a proactive approach for maintenance of their parking lots,” says Tom Sovel, Vice President and Senior Project Manager for Land Development at Spalding DeDecker in Rochester Hills, Michigan. “Most often, the maintenance is put off until you reach the crisis mode,” Tom says. “When pavement repairs are done at that point, rehabilitation expenses can cost ten times what they might have cost if there was a plan in place.”

Pavement – roads, parking lots, parking deck surfaces, sidewalks, and pathways – has its life cycle. It won’t last forever. But crisis-point spending can be astounding on a seemingly simple repair. Alligator cracks – those stringy-looking cracks filled in with black sealant – can cost $5/per square foot to repair. Had the pavement been maintained with a plan and budget in place, the repair cost could be reduced to roughly 10 cents/per square foot. Undertaking a “cut and patch” maintenance approach may save money in the short-term, but it’s hit and miss and will only prolong the inevitable. And once the pavement is past the point of repair, reconstruction costs may be one of the largest capital expenses an organization may incur.

So what’s an organization to do? According to Tom, there are often two common mistakes made when it comes to pavement management. The first mistake is when a preventive maintenance program only concentrates on keeping fair to good pavement in that condition by sealing cracks and seal coating, while letting poor condition pavement deteriorate further. The second mistake is to fix poor condition pavement in crisis mode and ignore the fair condition pavement altogether – a recipe for the good to go bad.

There is no reason not to have a sound plan of action for maintaining pavement. In fact, it’s easier than you think. A key role of any pavement management program is strategy: develop short-term and long-term budgets that allocate funds between maintenance and capital projects. The secret, Tom says, is the right approach to address current conditions and plan for future need.

  1. A solid pavement management program consists of the following components:
  2. Identification of current pavement conditions
  3. Prioritization of various pavement segments
  4. Computer analysis to generate repair options
  5. Development of five- or ten-year plans along with respective budgets to achieve goals
  6. Development of repair plans
  7. Implementation of repairs

Pavement is assessed using a standard condition rating system, such as Pavement and Surface Evaluation Rating System (PASER). The property owner provides input on the desired average condition rating across the network (areas) of pavement. Using one of several programs on the market – Cartegraph, RoadSoft, or MicroPAVER – the computer runs the analysis and recommends long-range plans and budgets. The program can be “condition-based,” calculating how much should be spent each year to achieve the desired result, or “budget-based,” which will provide repair plans based on available budget dollars even though the target condition may not be met.

The computer analysis also provides tools to analyze repair backlogs, budget forecasting, and future repair scenarios.

Developing the right program is more than just computer analysis. Universities have many schools and departments, all potentially with a say in who needs what first.

When Tom Sovel and his team are developing a program, they make sure the decisions are “network based,” meaning that all areas of the pavement are considered in the scenario, not just the bad ones. This prevents one area or department from making a one-way decision which may not be beneficial to the entire pavement network.

A good pavement management plan is like a diet; it won’t work unless you are pro-active in undertaking it. Spalding DeDecker has been developing these plans for several years – and has seen successes and failures. “The real failure is when we go through the planning process and then the owner does not follow it,” Tom says. “The other failure is not following up after they have implemented the program – this is a ‘living’ thing and should be updated as improvements are made and as the program expands into future years.” By predicting the path a pavement will follow as it ages, you beat the game. This results in less expensive repairs, which will literally extend the life of the pavement.


Wes Goodman, Director of Operations at Clarkston Community Schools and Lake Orion Schools, said that having a site evaluation and survey report was just the tool they were looking for. “The report has provided us proper analysis and recommendations of the districts 2.4 million square feet of asphalt parking lots, roadways and concrete sidewalks and curbs. This information has helped us establish budgets to handle and prioritize our needs. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to know and understand this important asset.”

As a pro-active institution, Eastern Michigan University (EMU) recognized the need to maintain their pavement, one of university’s largest assets. Their pavement was important to the school for many reasons: Public safety, ADA compliance, financial value, and quite literally, curb appeal. EMU wanted to make the best first impression it could to potential students and visitors.

The University of Michigan (U of M) is also developing a plan with Spalding DeDecker. The detailed plan allows for creating five year budgets, comparing costs between timely repairs and deferred capital maintenance – while maintaining consistency across the entire pavement network. A plan to make any risk-management professor proud.

Planning and implementing a smart pavement management program should be an integral part of any school or university budget. Technology, along with a common sense approach and a commitment to follow through are key to maximizing the investment of this essential part of campus infrastructure. Don’t let the roadways be pulled out from underneath you. You can’t avoid every bump in the road ahead, but you can make them more cost effective to repair.