Transportation Infrastructure:

Highway Pavement Design Guide Is Outdated

RCED-98-9: Published: Nov 21, 1997. Publicly Released: Nov 21, 1997.

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Jayetta Hecker
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GAO provided information on the: (1) roles of the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) and others in developing and updating the pavement design guide; and (2) use and potential of a computer analysis method known as nonlinear 3 Dimensional-Finite Element Method (3D-FEM) for improving the design and analysis of highway pavement structures.

GAO noted that: (1) FHwA has worked cooperatively with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in developing and updating the pavement design guide; (2) the current guide is slated to be updated by the year 2002 to better reflect the changing priority of rehabilitating the nation's highways rather than building new ones; (3) in contrast to the current guide, that many transportation experts believe is outdated, the new guide is expected to incorporate the use of analytical methods to predict pavement performance under various loading and climatic conditions; (4) sponsors believe that a new design approach will more realistically characterize existing highway pavements and improve the reliability of designs; (5) a promising analytical method to accurately predict pavement response is the nonlinear 3D-FEM; (6) only with accurate response data can one reliably predict pavement performance; (7) the use of this method has the potential to improve the design of highway pavements, which encompasses highway safety, durability, and cost-effectiveness, because values of stresses, strains, and deflections (pavement response) can be calculated accurately from a variety of static, impact, vibratory, and moving mixes in traffic loads; (8) several state departments of transportation, academicians, and scientists have pioneered the use of the nonlinear 3D-FEM and are using it to solve a variety of complex structural engineering problems, including the design and analysis of highway pavement structures; and (9) while this is a promising method for improving highway pavement design and analysis, GAO could find no evidence that it is being considered for inclusion in the current design guide update.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To better assist in designing safer, longer lasting, and more cost-effective new, reconstructed, and overlay highway pavement structures, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to ensure that the nonlinear 3D-FEM is considered in the current update of the pavement design guide.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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