Why Strategic Maintenance Programs Are Key to Unlocking Productivity

Why Strategic Maintenance Programs Are Key to Unlocking Productivity

In Dust Control, Soil Stabilization, Surface Management by Frank Elswick

Maintaining an unpaved road takes much more than sporadic spot applications and watering during dry spells. Include the following steps in your strategic maintenance program to keep unpaved roads from becoming an undue financial burden.

Too often, unpaved roads fall into a state of disrepair due to limited funding and simple lack of attention. The quick fixes needed to make these roads temporarily traversable can stretch tight budgets even thinner, while doing nothing to ensure long-term maintenance. This is exactly the problem the Wyoming Department of Transportation and the Mountain-Plains Consortium faced when they turned to the Wyoming Technology Transfer Center for answers on how small state counties with only minimal funds and resources might manage their unpaved roads.

The report that followed from the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, compiled from the effort and knowledge of 56 industry experts, aimed to”provide elected officials with useful information that lets them make good financial decisions” and “provide road managers with information that helps them maximize the efficiency of unsealed roads’ maintenance and rehabilitation.” Most importantly, the report presents a set of actionable guidelines for asset and pavement management. Heeding these guidelines is the first step for operators to move towards a more organized, efficient, and productive road maintenance plan.

The Report

The report focuses on streamlining management techniques and provides an acronym for the gravel roads management system (GRMS) outlined therein. According to the plan, every GRMS should be broken down into four basic implementation processes: Assessment, Inventory, Cost Maintenance and Tracking, and Condition Monitoring. Let’s take a closer look at each of these steps.


Before anything else, it’s absolutely essential to assess the conditions surrounding the project. Five aspects to be considered in the assessment are support, financial resources, hardware, software and GPS, information, and personnel. If a project can be completed using only the resources available, budget starts to be far less of an issue.


Once the assessment of the project is completed, it’s time to actually delve into the inventory at hand: the repository of data cataloguing the condition of the unpaved road. When taking inventory, focus on four fundamental elements of the road: unique section identification, location, surface type, and length.

Once the basic features of the road have been recorded, tracking more detailed inventory information — like typical traffic volumes and speeds, subgrade type(s), roadway prism height, road use, and land use — will provide a more detailed blueprint for the specific maintenance needs of the road surface.

Maintenance and Cost Tracking

After the essential data is recorded, it’s time to collect some additional information regarding the current maintenance process in place. Hopefully, this is something that’s already been catalogued, but if it hasn’t been, create a log to track maintenance techniques and costs, including blading, reshaping, drainage maintenance, regraveling, dust control, stabilization, isolated repairs, and major work. Next, establish a consistent workflow schedule.

In order to standardize the maintenance process and make the most of your budget, “isolated repairs” should be performed on an as-needed basis, while “major work” should be performed as funds become available.

Condition Monitoring

Once the maintenance schedule is in place, operators must continue to monitor road conditions on a regular basis. Methods for evaluation might include visual distress surveys, measurement-based distress surveys, automated roughness measurements, and gravel thickness measurements, as well as before and after photographs.

Bringing in the Experts

Above all, the report emphasizes the importance of simplicity: Simplicity is critical to making a gravel roads management system (GRMS) work for small agencies. They have very limited resources. This fact, combined with the reality that it doesn’t make economic sense to spend a whole lot of time or money managing very low volume roads, dictates that any GRMS must not consume a lot of resources while still producing useful results both for elected officials and for road managers. In order to keep road maintenance projects on schedule and within budget, operators should turn to the professionals at Midwest Industrial Supply, Inc..

Midwest not only provides market-leading products for unpaved road maintenance — its teams of road building experts also work within project requirements and analyze the composition of native soils on site to deliver a road building program optimized for cost, strength (CBR), and timeliness. Midwest’s services can reduce up to 80% of construction costs while maintaining 100% of the strength of an asphalt road, all while controlling road dust and complying with strict environmental regulations. The strongest aspect of a strategic maintenance system? A firm partnership with Midwest.

(Image credit: Anton/flickr)

Frank is the sales unit manager of Midwest's road construction and natural paving markets.