Highway Infrastructure:

Quality Improvements Would Safeguard Billions of Dollars Already Invested

RCED-94-198: Published: Sep 19, 1994. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 1994.

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Pursuant to a legislative requirement, GAO: (1) reviewed states' experiences with using warranties in highway contracts; (2) identified efforts to provide adequate maintenance for federal-aid highways; and (3) identified opportunities for improving states' procedures for selecting pavement designs.

GAO found that: (1) states' use of contract warranties is limited but generally satisfactory; (2) contractors have raised concerns as to whether warranties are fair and enforceable; (3) federal guidance could help states assess when warranties would be an effective tool for promoting quality; (4) many states have backlogs of maintenance projects, mainly because of resource constraints; (5) Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) oversight has not ensured that states adequately maintain federal-aid highways; (6) FHwA has not established maintenance performance standards for federal-aid highways; (7) many states do not consider the results of life-cycle cost analyses and exclude important data, such as maintenance costs, in selecting pavement designs; and (8) the lack of guidance on what design factors need to be analyzed undermines the states' use of this approach in making investment decisions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA's Administrator approved a final life-cycle cost analysis policy statement in late fiscal year 1996.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to issue guidance to states on factors to be considered as part of life-cycle cost analysis, such as: (1) setting priorities for projects over multiyear periods; (2) establishing acceptable value ranges, particularly for social and other nontraditional costs like pollution, congestion, and fuel usage; and (3) refining maintenance costs and salvage values.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA evaluated state highway design procedures and will use the results of this effort and other projects under way to facilitate work by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program to develop design guidance for new and rehabilitated highways, including the need for site specific data, but this guidance will not be developed until 2002.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to issue guidance on the type and size (dollar amount) of highway projects that warrant collection of site-specific data when a highway project is being designed.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On June 18 1996, FHwA circulated to its staff an FHwA report on maintenance and the use of preventive maintenance on the Interstate Highway System. The report details the legislative history of the type of maintenance activities eligible for federal funds and packages within the report a series of maintenance-related memorandums. In addition, the report presents the results of a nine-state review of maintenance and includes recommendations that FHwA adopt a functional definition of preventive maintenance that reflects a preservation philosophy, and that existing preventive maintenance policy memorandums be consolidated and reissued as a single document in the Federal-Aid Policy Guide. Further, FHwA notes its intent to develop an action plan to facilitate each of the report recommendations.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to provide guidance on the use of federal funds for preventive maintenance that would include: (1) clarification on when and under what circumstances a state can use federal funds to pay for work performed by state maintenance personnel; (2) an explanation of the type of data a state could use to justify using funds for preventive maintenance if a state's pavement management system does not capture such information; and (3) advice on how maintenance activities could be packaged into one funding request.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: FHwA notes, in a June 18, 1996 document, its intent to have included in the reauthorization legislation for highways, provisions that would promote partnering principles and eliminate the annual certification and sanctions. Since the recommendation is anchored in an FHwA oversight role of annual certification of adequate maintenance by the states with the possibility of sanctions if maintenance is deemed inadequate, FHwA's planned refocusing of its role is no longer in accord with the thrust of the recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to work with states to develop performance standards and expectations, including specific time frames for corrective action that depend on the severity and safety impact of maintenance problems.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FHwA's position is that the agency prefers not to develop standard or model draft warranty specifications. However, FHwA states that it is available, upon request, to assist state highway agencies in developing warranty provisions.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, in cooperation with state departments of transportation, to develop and disseminate model warranty provisions for individual types of projects, such as rubberized asphalt pavement overlays. Model provisions might detail: (1) the duration of the warranty; (2) the types of failures the warranty should target; and (3) suggested performance specifications.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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