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System Preservation

The Importance of Preservation

There is no more fundamental transportation capital investment than system preservation—keeping the physical infrastructure in good condition. As transportation facilities age and are used, a regular; schedule of rehabilitation, reconstruction, and replacement is needed; to keep the system usable. Timing is important: if preservation investment is deferred, costs increase dramatically, leading to the saying “Pay me now, or pay me more—lots more—later.    

Asset Management

“Asset management” is a term that describes a proactive approach to investing in preservation at the right time to optimize condition. Asset management includes having comprehensive inventories of transportation facilities; a system for measuring and reporting system condition; predictive condition models that anticipate rehabilitation or replacement needs; and an investment program that ensures that the right investments are made at the right time. WSDOT’s pavement management system, which includes a history of pavement performance from the 1970s, is a good example of asset management. This system has been adapted for use by local governments in managing their pavement investments.

In 2002 and 2003, the Legislature reinforced this state’s commitment to asset management. Legislation specifically required maintenance and preservation to be included in state plans for highways, ferries, and rail, and required cities, counties, and transit agencies to manage and report system condition. These requirements will help ensure that more consistent condition information will exist in the future about all transportation assets.


What are we finding?

On State Highway Pavements:
WSDOT has made progress on asphalt and chip seal pavements, improving conditions and achieving lowest life cycle cost investment.

Concrete pavements are an emerging need: they are disproportionately represented in future poor pavement miles. The current funding allocations are adequate to cover asphalt and chip seal repaving needs, but fall far short of funding concrete rehabilitation needs.

On State Highway Bridges:
A comprehensive bridge inventory exists, and WSDOT has made good progress on bridge rehabilitation, but aging bridges represent a growing need. Two big ticket bridge reservation
needs include replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the SR 520 floating bridge, which are unfunded and represent a shortfall of several billion dollars. Bridges that are structurally sound, but have width and geometry deficiencies, are another emerging concern. Some of these bridges are among our oldest, and have narrow lanes and narrow or no shoulders and poor pedestrian access. Modernizing these width and geometry challenged bridges could cost an additional $1.4 billion which is now unfunded.

On Local Roadways:
Local governments face large shortfalls in preserving their pavements and bridges, with local transportation funding being squeezed by revenue reductions, growing needs of local government services and competing expansion needs. Recently compiled data indicate that sixteen percent of city roadway pavements are in poor or very poor condition with indications that, at current funding levels, this number will grow. Additional data on preservation needs of local roadways is being developed.

On Washington State Ferries:
Current funding assumptions for the next ten years show the Washington State Ferries meeting targets for both vessel and terminal preservation, including the replacement of four 1927 vessels. Further vessel replacement beyond the 10 year period is an outstanding and unfunded issue.

On Local Ferries:
There are four county-operated ferries in Washington which have needs for vessel and terminal assets. Need estimates are being compiled.

On General Aviation Airports:
A shortfall exists in paving, lighting, and navigation aids. An inventory is being updated. An important issue for airports is the need to preserve the airport sites themselves and their operations from encroachment by appropriate land use development.

On Public Transit Systems:
An inventory is being developed on transit asset preservation needs. Issues include funding stability for bus fleet replacement strategies; increasing costs for preservation
of service levels; park and ride lot preservation needs; and operating needs, especially for expensive demand response service,  competing with other transit priorities including
preservation.

On Railroads:
Short line railroads are mostly owned by private operators, making information on system condition difficult to compile. Indications are that short line rail tracks are facing large rehabilitation needs, and may be at least partly unfunded. Worsening track conditions could lead to further abandonment.