International Parking & Mobility Institute

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Take the “Deferred” Out of Maintenance

Plan Now to Save Your Asphalt Later

The old saying attributed to Benjamin Franklin,
“An ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure,” should be a rule to live by for those of us who manage physical transportation assets, especially paved parking lots. In my 15 years of experience managing parking, I have worked at two college campuses that did not have a plan to manage their asphalt when I arrived. The plan was to respond to major issues when they happened or wait for buildings to be placed on top of the lots. Speaking with many colleagues over the years, neglect seems to be the norm to maintain parking lots, either due to insufficient funding to employ regular maintenance, or because of other university priorities.

Sometimes parking lots reach full deterioration and are completely rebuilt rather than maintained, costing not only more in construction dollars versus maintenance dollars, but also costing more money due to inflation that has crept up over the years (or soared as in recent years). My first campus was a community college in California, and the parking lot maintenance was centrally funded by the college district. I’m currently at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, and this article will focus on what we have endeavored to accomplish. The Oregon State University Corvallis Campus is about 570 acres in size, and Transportation Services manages just more than 60 asphalt parking lots and roughly 60 acres of asphalt. Transportation Services is a self-funded auxiliary of the university.

Deferred Maintenance

I often joke with colleagues that the term “deferred maintenance” usually describes a university’s regular maintenance plan. Resources, especially capital and labor, are often lacking. My university was no exception when I arrived in late spring 2015. We were just nearing the completion of our first year operating a zonal parking system, and parking on campus became livable again. The hunting license permits, and staff/student designated lots, were gone and people could usually find a parking space near their destination or choose a space further away for less money and walk, ride a bike, or take our Beaver Bus to their destination. However, we soon realized that another challenge was rearing its head. Some of our parking lots were failing, and we knew other lots could be soon if deferred maintenance did not become regularly scheduled maintenance. We needed to act.

First Things First—Set a Goal

Prior to 2015, quite some time had passed since our department established a baseline for planning the major maintenance or rehabilitation costs needed to bring our lots up to a good condition. But before spending any money or selecting which lots needed to be repaired, we needed a goal. We decided our goal would be to bring all our asphalt lots to a Pavement Condition Index (PCI) rating of “fair” or better. For those of you unfamiliar with PCI (not to be confused with the Payment Card Industry, or Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute), it is a common measure used by civil engineers to rate the health of pavement on roads and in parking lots. Without getting into a lot of detail on PCI ratings, we simplified our rating scale to 1 to 8, with 6 being our “fair” number and 8 being “good.”
Freshly sealed parking lot at Sackett Hall, Oregon State University, with cars parked on both sides and a tree-lined background.
Sackett Hall Lot after Slurry Seal, Oregon State University

Make a Plan

Now that we had our goal, we needed to create a road map to reach it. In 2016 we decided to start with repairs on the parking lots that we knew were in the worst shape, which was about ten lots. You know the parking lots I’m talking about—they are more gravel than asphalt. However, with just over 60 parking lots, we did not quite know how to prioritize the rest. We needed an expert, but the resources within our organization were not available at the time to perform the detailed assessment and forecast that we needed. We decided to hire a local civil engineer, and in addition to their evaluation services, we asked that they create a plan with the lots and repairs prioritized to reach our goal. We also asked that they include a preventative maintenance plan with projected costs for immediate repairs and maintenance into the future. What we got was a detailed set of spreadsheets and PDFs that outlined exactly what we needed to do and when, and how much it could cost. Our plan covered 25 years of near-term repairs and ongoing maintenance, with major capital repairs/improvements occurring in the first eight years. The plan placed us on an easy-to-follow schedule to keep our lots in a fair or better condition. It was a relief to have the guesswork removed, and we could move forward on reaching our goal.

Show Me the Money

It was one thing to have a plan in hand, and another to fund it. Fortunately, as a self-funded unit, destiny was in our hands. The costs for the first 10 years implementing the plan were projected to be just over $5 million, including our major rehabilitations and ongoing maintenance. We set to work on updating our 10-year capital plan to include these costs. It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to secure funding to maintain these facilities. Land is always at a premium, especially on university campuses. Many of us are working towards reducing our drive alone rates. Many of us also know that in the higher education setting, parking lots are building seeds, especially for those angel donor dollars. If an agency is not able to adjust their rates to maintain parking lots, it should be stressed to the budget authorities that if the availability of parking is reduced, the lots that remain need to be in good condition and have amenities to meet the expectations of commuters. They may be paying a higher price for a commodity that is reduced in supply (parking spaces for single occupancy vehicles), and commuters may also have been pushed out to campus perimeters as central campus lots are transformed for land uses more in line with a campus master plan. If the agency can adjust their own rates, do the math! Get the 10-year forecast out and update those pro formas.

Keep Moving Forward

Even with a plan in place and funding secured, it is so important to continue the momentum. Competing priorities, especially those operational issues that pop up and demand immediate attention, can derail even the best laid plans. We sought help internally from our university’s capital planning and construction unit to help manage our larger repair projects, specifically those that broke ground. It is amazing what is found underground at a 150-year-old university—old foundations, utilities to nowhere, and even mammoth bones! Additionally, with our soft soil in the Willamette Valley, sometimes you dig and must continue digging to get to a place that will support base rock for your asphalt. It was important to have someone dedicated to the major projects in the first five to 10 years while someone within our department was charged with keeping up the maintenance plan. Fortunately, having someone dedicated to the asphalt repairs paid off as we kicked off our major repairs in 2017. Their focus, coupled with pre-pandemic pricing, allowed us to jump ahead on our repair projects to get more out of our dollars.
Parking lot with cars in front of Reser Stadium, newly sealed asphalt gleaming in the sun.
Reser Stadium Lot after Slurry Seal.

Be Nimble

It is important to adapt and overcome when obstacles arise, and pivot when new avenues to success reveal themselves. The pandemic wreaked havoc on our budget, similarly to other transportation and parking agencies. But our operating budget and reserve fund stayed in the black. We directed efforts to maintenance, ensuring even the smallest details like moss on curbs in the deepest corners of our lots were addressed. At the same time, we completed a Sustainable Transportation Strategy, and our university completed a campus vision. These planning documents helped us further refine our asphalt management plan and adapt to changing priorities.

Re-evaluate

As we emerged from the pandemic closures and began in-person instruction in fall 2021, we took stock of how far we had moved along with our asphalt plan. We had made great progress on our lot repairs and began our maintenance cycles. We also had new information regarding our sustainability goals and campus planning. It was time to re-evaluate, a gut-check if you will, our asphalt management plan. We realized that the remaining repair projects would only take another two years to complete, so we simplified our plan from over 60 spreadsheets (one for each lot and some summary sheets) with very detailed information and costs, to one spreadsheet with all of our lots on a combination of two rotating schedules—a three-year crack fill and striping schedule and a six-year slurry seal schedule (that also included crack fill and striping). We also simplified our financial planning for contracted maintenance by asking for pricing based on the square footage of our parking lots.

Six Years Later

As we wrapped up summer 2023, we completed work in the last lots that needed major asphalt repair, and we will be entering our third year using our new rotating maintenance schedule. We hired a contractor who specializes in slurry sealing parking lots for an annual contract, with renewals up to six years (a full slurry cycle). Essentially every year we slurry seal, crack fill, and stripe about a sixth of our total number of parking lots, and we crack fill and stripe a third of our lots, with some overlap of work being done between the lots. We rest well at night knowing that our parking lots are being maintained like a well-oiled machine and will be in good repair and inviting to our community for years to come. Like all accomplishments, following the steps of setting a goal, making a plan, securing funding (sometimes the hardest part!), sticking to the plan, adapting when necessary and evaluating progress, and ensuring execution will set you up for success, and save your asphalt! ◆
Interim Director of Transportation Services | 

Mark Zandonella, CAPP, is the Interim Director of Oregon State University Transportation Services.

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