Visualizing Pavement Distress–The Complete Story of Pavement Inspection

Pavement management incorporates data collected utilizing various methods to gain a complete view of how the pavement is performing through its life-cycle.  One of the most common practices in pavement inspection is imaging utilizing high-resolution cameras mounted on vehicles outfitted with precision GPS and inertial navigation.  This imaging, when combined with laser profiling, constitutes a typical pavement inspection setup utilized by many DOTs as well as Local government agencies.

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Pavement Inspections tend to follow a process that in many cases is proprietary and “black box” in nature.  This makes it hard for the purchasing agency to see how their roads were inspected and how the resulting pavement condition scores were generated.  Our team of Engineers and GIS professionals have worked hard to develop a process to remove the “black box” related pavement inspection and to make it easy and simple to trace inspection results back to their originating distresses from the field.

First, our entire process is geospatial in nature from the get-go.  Our van’s location is tracked in six-dimensions in real-time and this information is used to calculate the exact location of pavement cracks in the resulting images.  Next, the pavement images are geospatially referenced in 3-d and 1mm-pixel resolution, making it easy to extract low-severity cracks in a true 3-d environment.  This process then allows us to create GIS vectors (points, lines and polygons) of each distress for each pavement image and deliver them to our clients as part of the pavement inspection deliverables.

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This is a crucial piece to the pavement inspection “story” because it shows the purchasing agency exactly what distresses were identified and measured when creating the pavement condition scores for a section of road.  Being able to see these distresses on a map helps to complete the story by providing the ability for a rigorous QA/QC process utilizing some simple GIS tools.

Each Section of road can be colored by the condition score and its range of values.  This tells one component of its story.  The underlying distress information tells the rest of the story related to “How” a section of road was scored and assigned its inspection score.  By having this information at their fingertips, pavement inspection personnel have a GIS-centric and user-friendly tool that allows them to QA/QC pavement inspection data efficiently.

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Asset management strategies–which is right for me?

We get a lot of questions about developing the right strategy as it relates to assets that are managed by different agencies.  These questions are typically focused on “How” to manage assets, which typically comes after the agency decides “Why” to manage assets.

Here are some typical questions:

  1. When is the best time to manage my asset in its life-cycle?
  2. When do I rehabilitate my asset?
  3. What do I do to the asset?
  4. When do I replace my asset?
  5. Can I just let it runs its course and when it fails, replace it?
  6. Should I invest time and money in an asset early in its life-cycle or wait until it is in poor condition to fix it?

We always recommend starting this process by understanding a few things about the asset.

1.  Financial Considerations – How much does an asset cost to install and Maintain?  Is it capitalized or not?   In most cases, the cost of an asset has a large impact on how it is managed.  This is not the only consideration, but we can use it as a starting point.

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2.  Risk Considerations – What are the consequences to the agency if this asset fails?  Will someone get hurt?  Will it cause an accident?  These are closely tied to other financial considerations such as tort liability.

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3.  Life-Cycle Considerations – How does the asset typically deteriorate?  Is it straight-line deterioration or more of a polynomial-type of a curve?  This information helps determine what to do to an asset and when to do it (less cost when starting earlier in the process).  Programmatic treatments or inspection-driven treatments are common approaches to managing assets with this approach.

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Once an agency has a solid understanding of the Financial, Risk and Life-Cycle considerations related to an asset, they can begin to develop a management strategy specifically for the asset type to be managed.  Since every asset can be managed differently, we will focus on a couple of assets and their management strategy.

Pavement

  1. Financial – Capitalized asset – high cost to install and maintain.
  2. Risk – Critical to the movement of people and commerce – high consequence of failure.
  3. Life-Cycle – Long-term asset with long-term life expectancy – Can be managed using a life-cycle or Inspection-based approach.

Pavements have a long history of research and empirical data models that have been developed for Airports, Parking lots and Roads and a variety of software exists to support the maintenance of this asset.  Therefore, it is pretty easy to choose an approach to manage pavement based on an agency’s goals and priorities.  Typically this program is inspection-driven (every 3-5 years) and focuses on finding the best mix of Preservation and Rehabilitation activities designed to achieve their target Level-of-Service.

Signs

  1. Financial – Capitalized asset – low to high cost to install and maintain.
  2. Risk – Critical to the safety of people and commerce – low to high consequences of failure.
  3. Life-Cycle – Medium to long-term life-expectancy – Can be managed using a life-cycle or Inspection-based approach.

Signs have less empirical data collected for them and can have varied Financial, Risk and Life-cycle information compiled and available throughout the industry.  Strategies for management are typically focused on Life-Cycle and Risk and there are many methodologies that are accepted by FHWA.  These are outlined in their Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and are widely utilized throughout the US.

Light Poles

  1. Financial – Capitalized asset – medium cost to install and maintain.
  2. Risk – Semi-Critical to the safety of people and commerce – low to high consequences of failure.
  3. Life-Cycle – Medium to long-term life-expectancy – Can be managed using a life-cycle or Inspection-based approach.

Light poles are typically managed by inspection of their base attachments (every 10 years or so) but many agencies typically run these assets to failure (luminaire failure or pole failure).  This is another mixed bag of management because some light poles provide a critical safety function (DOT) and others just light the way for safety (walkways) and are not as critical to the daily operations of an agency.

These are just a few examples of strategy development – we would love to see comments related to the infrastructure that you manage and we will reply with some of the Industry’s Best-Management-Practices (BMPs) that are successfully used throughout the US.

Utilizing Mobile LiDAR to Support Pavement Resurfacing

Many Departments of Transportation are looking for ways to save money while increasing safety on the roads. In order to do this, they are seeking out innovative ways to do this while utilizing new technology. Mobile LiDAR is being used to determine roadway geometry information for long stretches of roadways that are candidates for resurfacing. The typical DOT procurement process involves the selection of a resurfacing vendor through a competitive bid solicitation and then the selection of the most qualified and “cost-effective” bidder. As budgets have become leaner, the competition for these projects has increased and thus, drives the innovation curve to find the most cost-effective solution for the DOT.

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To achieve this goal, pavement vendors have sometimes turned to the use of LiDAR information to develop their bid packages for the DOT. Historically, vendors would use the as-built information that was available from the DOT which might be inaccurate, old or obsolete. This obviously leads to issues with the information that the pavement vendor uses to develop their bid packages. They are most interested in determining the correct amount of cut/fill needed to resurface the road while using the least amount of new material. One of the most important pieces of this puzzle relates to the cross-slop of the road which facilitates roadway drainage and ultimately makes a road safer for the traveling public.

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Mobile LiDAR provides a high-precision, digital terrain model of the roadway surface that can be used to generate very accurate cross-slope measurements at specific intervals. For example, the road surface is continuous for the entire length of the project. Cross-Slopes can be generated for each travel lane as well as for the shoulders. The extracted cross-slope is then compared to the design specification and colored based on whether it is in compliance or out of compliance.

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Once the areas have been identified that are out of compliance, it is easy for the pavement vendor to target those for the re-design effort. Instead of applying an average value across the entire section of road, specific areas can be identified and re-designed so that the pavement vendor can save the DOT money on materials. The ultimate benefit for both the pavement vendor and the DOT lies in the fact that everyone benefits – Pavement vendors can design roads more accurately and limit their risk of material over-runs while the DOT can select the most cost-effective vendor and have more budget available to pave their ever-increasing network mileage of roads.

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Since mobile LiDAR data is very cumbersome to manage (2Gb/mile) it is important to deliver the data in a format that is usable by the client. Sometimes raw LAS files work and sometimes the client can only deal with vector files that will be used in GIS, Autocad or Microstation, to name a few. We have found that KMZ files are useful as a delivery mechanism because they can be easily loaded and viewed by the client in very short order. Any derivative of these delivery mechanisms will work – it just depends on the expertise of the client and their computing environment.

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Future discussions will focus on the DOTs and their collection of mobile LiDAR data so that they can provide it to all of the pavement vendors and receive the most cost-effective bid packages. Although there is an up-front cost associated with the LiDAR collection, it is believed that the downstream cost savings for both the DOT and the pavement vendor will more than outweigh the up-front cost of collecting the mobile LiDAR data.

Another Cool Airport Mapping Project

We just recently completed a cool project for an airport client who was having issues with their concrete surface and “pop-outs” caused by extended freeze/thaw weather events.  Pop-outs are caused when the surface of the concrete sheds pieces that are about an inch wide and can be anywhere from <1cm to 3cm deep.  The following graphic shows what the pop-outs look like in the field.

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The client was looking for a way to quantify the number of pop-outs per slab using an automated process to avoid having to survey every pop-out which would prove to be cost-prohibitive based on the overall size of the project.

Earth Eye deployed 2 teams of data collection vehicles to compare the imagery that could be obtained from our right-of-way cameras as well as from our pavement camera.

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The pavement camera has a resolution of 1mm and gives us the ability to resolve the pop-outs from a nadir view, making it easier to automate the extraction of these features from the imagery.  Also, the nadir view gives us more spatial accuracy, so the locations of the pop-outs can be accurately mapped and then compared with future imagery to help quantify the amount of new pop-outs that have arisen since the last inventory.  Furthermore, the gray-scale image provided by the pavement camera provided more contrast between the concrete surface and the pop-out which is much lighter in color.  It was determined that the nadir-view pavement camera provided the best starting point, from which to test the automated pop-out extraction process.  The following image illustrates a sample pavement image – note the pop-outs are very visible without having to zoom into the image.

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The next image shows the results of our automated classification routine without any manual augmentation of missed pop-outs.  We are realizing a consistent yield of greater than 95% of pop-outs identified as compared to control slabs that were collected manually in the field.  Being able to efficiently map the pop-outs with a very high-yielding and automated algorithm allows us to efficiently map the pop-outs to support maintenance operations for this airport facility.

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All of the pop-outs are geospatially referenced, so we can export all of the pop-outs as polygons with an area measurement associated with them.  This area can then be converted to a severity and used to prescribe a specific maintenance activity based on the size and depth of the pop-out.  The goal of the project was to create a quantified measurement (count) of the pop-outs for this entire project and we successfully completed this task with high-yielding, geospatial results.

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Automated Pavement Distress Analysis – The Final Frontier?

 We have been working with some automated methods for quantifying crack measurements and have had some interesting results.  How great would it be to collect pavement images, batch them on a server and have it spit out accurate crack maps that you can overlay in a GIS?  The technology is here!  Or, is it?

Most pavement inspections involve intricate processes where pavement experts rate segments visually, either from field visits or rating pavement images in the office.  This introduces a lot of subjectivity in the rating results and typically culminates in a spreadsheet showing pavement ratings by segment.  The data is then modeled using ASTM performance curves that have been built from industry proven pavement experiments.

There is no doubt that these curves are tried and true representations of how pavement performs in varying physical and environmental conditions and each project should take these factors into consideration when developing the preservation plans for an agency.

We have been working to develop a rating workflow that focuses on a combination of automated and manual processes to bridge the current gap of Quantitative and Qualitative pavement inspections.  The way we are doing this is through the application of GIS to the automated rating process.  Here’s how it works…

First, we begin with a pavement image from our LRIS pavement imaging system.  Images are captured at a 1mm-pixel resolution and then analyzed through an automated image processing workflow.

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The resulting image creates a “crack map” that identifies the type, severity and extent of the distresses on that section of pavement.  The process is fully automated and handled by the computer.

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Once we have the crack maps in place, we then apply a manual editing process that is GIS-centric by nature and the resulting crack map is a more accurate representation of the real-world conditions.

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Once the edited crack maps are compiled, the data is exported to a GIS where the extents are calculated geospatially and then integrated with a pavement management system.  This is where all of the Pavement Condition Indices (PCI) are calculated and applied to each agency’s specific pavement rating methodologies.  Since the process is geospatial in nature, it is easily imported to ANY pavement management software and gives our clients the flexibility to apply any rating methodology they desire.

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Of course, all agencies have a certain spending threshold and there are cases where automation is the only way to cost-effectively manage large volumes of data.  We recognize this fact and are working hard to bridge the gap of available funding and high quality data.

Pavement Management Data Analysis

We’re just finishing up on a couple of pavement re-inspection projects.  Project #1 was our 3rd re-inspection of the network and Project #2 was our second inspection of their network.  Both projects are located in the Rocky Mountain region of the US and have pretty harsh freeze/thaw cycles, particularly in the past couple of winters.  Our clients were mostly interested in how their network was performing over time as compared to our predictive models set up in their pavement management software.

The results are pretty interesting for Project #1 – as you can see, their network is deteriorating a lot faster these days based on a few harsh winter seasons.  The Bright Green lines show the distribution of their pavement in 2010 as compared to the 2008 (Yellow) and 2005 (Red) inspections.

These differences are directly attributable to the past 3 winter seasons and their impact on their pavement infrastructure.  This particular client plans on using this information to acquire additional funding for their pavement management program for the next few years to “catch up” with the maintenance on their network.  The following graphic displays the current condition distribution for this client for their most recent inspection in 2010.

Most pavement prediction models utilize performance curves to predict pavement performance over time.  These models hold true in the short-term, but can fluctuate based directly on weather events or other human factors such as changing traffic conditions.  In some cases, re-inspection is necessary to adjust these estimates so an agency can fund its capital improvement program effectively.  This was the specific intent of this client and there is no doubt why they are one of the premier places to live in because of their proactive asset management approach!