2020, Colorado

Communicating Budget Funding Solutions with Elected Officials

As the public spotlight continues being directed toward transportation funding, local agencies are feeling the pressure to maintain the millions of dollars of existing in-place street infrastructure that they own and manage.

Transportation Asset Management is not sexy, it doesn’t give elected officials the opportunity for a ribbon cutting event for a new city park or pedestrian/bike path greenbelt. However, Infrastructure Directors understand the extreme importance of maintaining the roadway system we have already built and invested billions of dollars in. They are constantly faced with the challenge of demonstrating the massive asset value of their streets, curb & gutter, sidewalks and bridges (typically the largest financial asset a local agency owns) to their elected officials/ decision makers and demonstrating current conditions and future needs.

Implementing a Transportation Asset Management Program requires a philosophical shift in the way an agency funds and manages a program. It needs a champion on staff to promote a proactive program rather than a reactive system and buy-in from elected officials.

When a local agency develops and implements a sustainable pavement preservation program it becomes a cost-effective approach to maintaining their existing roadway infrastructure. City Public Works staff, County Road & Bridge staff, and State Department of Transportation staff all know the benefits of properly funding, implementing and maintaining a pavement preservation program. However, authorization of pavement preservation program budgets can sometimes prove to be the most difficult aspect of the program to implement.

Typically, the program budget must be approved by a Finance Director or Accounting Department, then forwarded to the City Manager before being presented to a group of elected officials (e.g., City Council, County Commissioners or the State Budget Committee) for final approval. In general, the people who control the overall effectiveness of a pavement preservation program by determining the budget, have no technical expertise or experience relating to pavements, and in turn, can make poor uninformed decisions, significantly impacting the service and performance of the pavement infrastructure system.

Poor decisions made at the top level can significantly set back a municipal transportation department by putting the program in a budget hole, making it virtually impossible for the roadway staff to improve the current condition of the system, but also to even maintain the current pavement condition.

With budget shortfalls and across the board budget cuts becoming common place, the ability to communicate the importance of certain government funded programs and funding for roads and bridges is becoming more important. Across the board cuts is one of the easiest ways for governments and municipalities to control their budgets when revenues that are coming in are not as high they were forecasted for the current fiscal year. The impacts of doing across the board budget cuts may have a detrimental effect on the long-term performance of public infrastructures, including roads and bridges.

Communicating to government leaders about the importance of a pavement preservation program is critical to ensure the public has access to safe and efficient roads today as well as in the future. The ability to communicate the importance of the program is tied to the measurable results of the pavement preservation program. Appropriate budgeting and implementation of a pavement preservation program helps ensure that roads are maintained today to avoid the costly expense of having to reconstruct into the future. The pavement preservation measures taken today help ensure that the public continues to have access to safe and efficient roads today and in the future.

The Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association is taking an active role in promoting Transportation Asset Management programs in Colorado by partnering with local agencies and taking a lead in working directly with them on developing, streamlining and implementing their Street Improvement. CAPA also took a lead role in working with the Metropolitan Government Pavement Engineer’s Council to develop their Local Agency Transportation Asset Management Guide (available for free download on their website).

200113 Local Agency Feedback

In January, CAPA released their 2020 Local Agency Pavement Condition Report which summarized funding and performance of street programs for local agencies across the state. In 2019, data from 79 agencies was presented and the annual report (available for free download on the CAPA website) has become a very useful tool in helping agencies communicate their message to their elected officials.

The author Mike Skinner is the Director of Pavement Engineering for the Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association (CAPA) and is the chairman of the Metropolitan Government Pavement Engineers Council Transportation Asset Management Task Force.  He can be reached at mikeskinner@co-asphalt.com