Calculating how much it costs to maintain a road can sometimes be difficult. You must consider factors such as weather, quantity of traffic, type of traffic and driver behavior. Reviewing those factors leads to the most efficient schedule and, from that, the cost of maintaining the road. Whatever the complexities, maintenance is vital to keep the road open and traffic moving.
Consider the road surface itself. Paved and unpaved roads demand different types of maintenance work at varying frequency. Gravel roads may, depending on the climate, require regular grading. Paved roads may require less frequent, but much more expensive, patches and repaving.
Consider climate. Different weather affects roads in different ways. Paved roads are particularly vulnerable in wet temperate climates, as moisture will find its way into small cracks in the road surface in the warmer months, then expand those cracks as it freezes in the winter -- creating more space for water to seep into the road surface during the next freeze-thaw cycle. This creates, by repetition over time, large cracks and potholes in the road surface. Gravel roads, on the other hand, tend to be more vulnerable in dry weather, as gravel requires moisture to self-adhere. Loss of gravel leads to bumpy roads, or washboarding. When frequent rainfall occurs, washboarding can be reduced. Prolonged dry weather, even on low-traffic roads, can cause more washboarding problems.
Take account of the effect of your local climate on road clearing. If the road is located in a wet and temperate or wet and cold environment, there's a good chance that, regardless of the surface of the road, it will need to be cleared of snow and ice often, during winter. This will raise costs for labor, fuel and sand or salt. Roads in more arid and hot climates will typically not require as much clearing, although freak winter storms will sometimes occur in areas thought to be too warm or too dry.
Consider the quantity and types of vehicles using the road, as well as driver behavior. For all roads, a greater number of heavier vehicles driven by drivers who accelerate and drive faster and brake more suddenly will accelerate the decomposition of the road surface.
Experiment and observe. Every road faces different concerns and exists in different situations, and so it is best to arrive at cost estimates with a view to the specific circumstances affecting that road. Experiment with the maintenance schedule, fine-tuning it to maximize efficiency, keeping all of the considerations of Steps 1 to 4 in mind. Observe how much the respective maintenance schedules cost in labor, materials (such as extra pavement, extra gravel and sand or salt), fuel and equipment repair; once you find your most efficient maintenance schedule, you can use these observations to calculate future maintenance costs accurately.
Monitor, constantly, changes in traffic and weather. If the situation changes in such a way that the maintenance schedule you set up in Step 5 is no longer the most efficient schedule, change the schedule to meet the new circumstances.
Factor in the cost of maintaining ditches and culverts. Water seeping under the foundation of the road or flooding the road surface can cause severe damage. It is important that water drainage systems around the road be working.
- World Bank: Roads & Highways: Construction & Maintenance
- Technology Transfer Program, University of California, Berkeley: Washboarding
- Alaska Department of Transportation: Alaskan Transportation
- Transportation Information Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison: Culverts - Proper Use and Installation
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