Fixing Roads Now… and For the Future
The right treatment for the right road at the right time. That’s the mandate for the City’s Transportation Infrastructure Management team as it goes about the task of repairing roads throughout the city.
The division’s goal is to keep the roads in a state of good repair at a minimal cost to the taxpayer. This cost-effective way of maintaining the roads is called “life-cycle costing.” It means fixing the roads as necessary to avoid costly maintenance in the future and, in essence, postponing the date when an old road would have to be completely reconstructed.
Typically, a major roadway is made up of an asphalt top and concrete bottom. In most cases, a new road’s asphalt has a life span of 18-25 years. As weather conditions and regular wear-and-tear occur, cracks and holes appearing in the road are repaired by City staff. The freeze-thaw cycle is a road’s worst enemy. When water enters the cracks created in the road, it actually has the strength and capability of lifting huge chunks of the asphalt.
After the road has been in existence for about 20 years, inspectors look at the road and perform engineering tests to determine if it needs a new surface. If the road is deemed to be in good shape, no work will be done at this point and the inspectors will return at a later date to re-inspect the road. If, however, the asphalt is in disrepair, the City will replace the asphalt surface.
If the road was in need of repair, but neglected at this stage, the deterioration would continue right through to the base of the road. The result would be a costly base reconstruction which usually costs about three times the amount of repairing the asphalt portion of the road. Usually, a road’s base will last about 50 years if preventative measures such as resurfacing are done periodically. If preventative measures are not undertaken, a road’s base might last only 25-30 years.
Taking steps to repave the road before it reaches a state of further disrepair has some obvious benefits. The work results in an improved road surface that benefits road users and also avoids the premature deterioration of the road’s base. Bridges and sidewalks are maintained in a similar fashion.
This might explain why certain road work is performed. Some residents might see a road that, on first glance, they don’t think requires resurfacing. But, by doing so, the City is prolonging the life of the road as well as saving money by avoiding a complete reconstruction. This process – that is the planned preventative interventions combined with financial modeling techniques – forms the basis of life-cycle costing. These techniques allow staff to manage “assets” better and assists in conveying financial responsibility to the taxpayer at large.
Life cycle costing has proven to be a cost-effective process in maintaining smooth sailing for Toronto’s road users and taxpayers.