In these tough economic times it only makes sense to allow maintenance forces more latitude in maintaining the highway system. Every year, as foreman, we make difficult decisions on which projects are going to receive proper repairs and which are left to deteriorate more. Annually in District Four, we receive about $500,000 for plant mix – far below the level of what we need to maintain our systems each year.
There is no doubt we don’t have the money to meet the demands of contract maintenance in all area, thus leading to quick fixes instead of proper repairs. I see this happening every year and we get further behind with no end in sight. My question is why don’t we allocate more money to maintenance repairs prior to waiting until they become large contract projects? Many locations on ITD's system can be preserved additional years with proper maintenance and timing. Financially it would pay dividends back to ITD by deferring future contract projects to later dates making management easier and less demanding.
An easy way to put this into perspective is managing a camp fire. Attended it is useful and manageable, unattended it eventually becomes difficult to manage, out of control, and then dangerous. Similar to camp fires that take a couple five-gallon bucket of water to manage, our highway system can be managed at a fraction of the cost of what we spend on programmed contracts. If state forces were allocated an additional $1.5 million in each district annually for plant mix, ITD could save tens of millions in contract maintenance. It’s a pay some now or a whole bunch later scenario and we seem to lean toward later for some reason. Maybe it is time to cut our losses and be more proactive than reactive.
A great start would be to take the money we are throwing at short-term repairs on exhausted sections and use it on salvageable roads. Reinstate the PRIMO (Performance Reporting in Maintenance Operations) concept, and identify a test district.