To Patch or Not to Patch

'We should not have potholes, period!" asserts Mohamed Shahin, a researcher at the US Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Laboratories in Champaign, Ill.

They appear, he says, when cities defer maintenance or their highway departments fail to stay in close touch with public utilities, which routinely carve up the roadways to repair water, sewer, gas, or electrical lines, and who often fail to properly patch the holes they dig.

To help communities manage their roadway maintenance more effectively, Dr. Shahin has developed a desktop-computer software package that turns road-condition information into maps, budget forecasts, work schedules, and forecasts of the cost impacts from deferred maintenance.

The intent, he says is to help public works departments manage scarce resources more effectively and arm their directors with the information they need to back requests for a larger share of city budgets. The program also is a tool for coordinating road and utility work so a newly paved section of street doesn't get hacked up two years after it's finished.

Proper maintenance carries only 20 to 25 percent of the cost of repairing failed sections of roads, he says. When maintenance is poorly managed, a city's residents must pay for the mistake twice: once as taxpayers, whose tax bill reflects the extra expenses of deferred maintenance, and again as motorists, whose car repair bills can rise by as much as $2,000 a year as a result of driving over poorly maintained roads.

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