Roadway Maintenance

By Matt Riddell

Throughout my years of experience working with Native American communities, I have found that implementing an effective Roadway Maintenance Program saves the Tribe/Nation tremendous dollars by extending the life of their existing roadways. Sometimes, roadway maintenance as a designation can be misinterpreted, so let’s start off with a basic definition: Ensure the roadway is preserved in its original desired condition.

In an effort to simplify the explanation, we’ll break roadway maintenance down into three categories:

  1. Routine
  2. Periodic
  3. Urgent

Routine Maintenance

Routine Maintenance encompasses regular, “preventative” small-scale operations to ensure safety and circumvent premature roadway deterioration. Here are a few examples:

 Edge Clearing and Grass Cutting. Maintaining the roadway clear-zone improves roadway safety and enhances the long-term stability of the roadway edge.3

Ditch and Culvert Cleaning. Keeping Roadway Ditches clear of debris ensures positive drainage and helps to maintain the roadway subgrade stability. Culvert cleaning prevents potential flood damage and additional long-term maintenance problems.


Crack and Joint Sealing. Filling or sealing pavement cracks to prevent water from entering the base and sub-base will extend the pavement life.5

 Pothole Patching and Repairs. Potholes not repaired, or patched poorly, can lead to complete road deterioration. When completing these operations, always use linear edges to avoid further pavement cracking and yielding.


Guardrail and Sign Repairs. Maintaining quality guardrail and sign installations improves driver safety and overall roadway functionality.7

Gravel Road Re-grading. Sound gravel maintenance practices prevent adverse impacts to inclement weather and improves the long-term stability of the roadway template.


Periodic Maintenance

On numerous occasions, I have evaluated the surface conditions of roadways for clients, and they cannot understand why the pavement condition had significantly deteriorated well in advance of the design pavement life. Usually, this is due to a lack of periodic maintenance. Periodic Maintenance involves regular, larger-scale tasks to preserve the structural integrity of the roadway. Below are some examples:

Resurfacing and Pavement Overlays. Asphalt overlays and resurfacing helps to strengthen the structural integrity of the roadway and improves driver rideability.resurfacing-pavement-overlays

Pavement Reconstruction. Reconstruction of the entire pavement allows for the repairing of deteriorated subgrade conditions and the long-term extension of the roadway lifespan.


Pavement Reclamation. Reclamation rebuilds worn out asphalt pavements by recycling the existing roadway. The old asphalt and base materials are pulverized, mixed with cement and water, and compacted to produce a strong, durable base for either an asphalt or concrete surface. Full-depth reclamation uses the old asphalt and base material for the new road. There’s no need to haul in aggregate or haul out old material for disposal.


Culvert Replacement. Replacement of structurally deficient and hydraulically substandard culverts both prevents potential flood damage to adjacent property owners and helps to protect the roadway pavement from the results of erosion damage.culvert-replacement

 Urgent Maintenance

When roadways are not given their requisite attention to maintenance, complete failure can arise. This proves to be the most costly form of roadway program management as sufficient planning time is not allowed, thus often the most cost-effective strategies cannot be investigated.

This will be quite a pricey “fix”

 Cost Benefits of Roadway Maintenance

Since Tribal dollars remain so valuable, finding the most economic approach to managing the TTP roadway system remains paramount. Let’s take a quick look at some dollar figures referenced from FHWA:


Take Home Message

While it is convenient to view roadway maintenance as correcting defects, we have seen above this can turn into an expensive approach. The time to plan for maintenance of a roadway is during roadway construction, not once the problems reach the surface (pun intended).

Start the left before you are stuck with the right. . .