Information on Materials and Practices for Improving Highway Pavement Performance

GAO-13-32R: Published: Nov 14, 2012. Publicly Released: Nov 14, 2012.

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Lorelei St James
(202) 512-2834


Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800

What GAO Found

The nation's more than 4 million miles of roads are key to the economy, facilitating the movement of goods and people. Although highways are highly durable and can last for decades, they deteriorate from traffic wear and tear, inadequate drainage, construction deficiencies, and weather. Keeping them in good condition requires substantial resources: public entities spent more than $180 billion in 2008 on highways, with about $40 billion coming from the federal government. Despite these outlays, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that these funding levels are insufficient to maintain or improve the condition of the nation's highways through 2028. Further, the major source of federal surface transportation funding--federal motor fuel tax revenues deposited into the Highway Trust Fund--is eroding. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that, as of March 2012, to maintain current spending levels and account for inflation from 2013 to 2022, the Highway Trust Fund will require more than $125 billion over what it is expected to take in during that period.

As a result, state highway agencies, the entities that are ultimately responsible for keeping most major highways in good repair, will need to develop strategies for doing so at reduced costs. One potential strategy is using more cost-effective materials and practices. With this in mind and in response to your request, this report describes (1) selected materials and practices that states can use or are using to improve the performance of pavements, including what is known about their costs and benefits, if any, and (2) challenges, if any, to using these materials and practices.

Why GAO Did This Study

Our literature review and discussions with stakeholders having relevant expertise resulted in the identification of 40 materials and practices that may contribute to improving the performance of pavements, extending service life, and reducing life-cycle costs. These materials and practices cover a range of uses and applications across the stages of a pavement's life cycle, from initial design and construction through maintenance and preservation cycles, and at the time of reconstruction. Several challenges exist to states' use of these materials and practices. In particular, some materials and practices may not be applicable or beneficial to all states, a decentralized and segmented highway industry may impede change, and resource constraints and procurement methods may limit states in implementing new approaches to building and maintaining their highways. However, FHWA, AASHTO, and states have developed several programs that address these challenges through research, training, and information and outreach programs.

For more information, contact Lorelei St. James at (202) 512-2834 or

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