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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Monitoring tool predicts Florida motorway maintenance

Could a new software solution have the power to revolutionise asset management decisions for road operators?

Interstate 595 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has been part of a trial project demonstrating new asset management technology.

The road opened in 2014 and incorporates an existing state highway into a complex network of flyovers, underpasses and overpasses.

It is operated by privately funded concessionaire I595 Express, which is contracted by the local department of transportation to operate and maintain the road to specified standards. Failure to do this can result in financial penalties and I595 Express is required to collect data to demonstrate compliance.

This is where tech company Probit’s Aim 4.0 software comes in. Aim stands for Asset Investment Manager and the software is an asset management platform.

Probit is working with engineering firm Tetra Tech, the main contractor for the I595 asset management programme. Probit has shown that its Aim software can assess and predict the condition of highway assets in greater detail and faster than previously possible. Data about the materials which make up the highway are fed into Aim 4.0 which is then able to process it to forecast when repair or maintenance work is needed and how much it will cost.

“In a nutshell Aim is an asset investment planning platform,” explains Probit chief executive Philip Jonkergouw.

“The main purpose is to allow users to ask questions of the software and for the software to then provide answers to these questions.

“For example, how much money will I need over the next 25 years to ensure a consistent level of service across my asset base? What happens if I don’t proactively maintain my assets? What targets can I achieve with a given budget over the next five years? What assets should I be investing in if I want to achieve a given level of service?”

Potential benefits

According to Jonkergouw, Aim 4.0 has three key differentiators when compared to more traditional approaches. The platform’s advanced decision analytics functionality is designed to run fast and provide answers to lots of different scenarios quickly. It is capable of processing data for millions of individual assets in less than 30 minutes.

It also promises a more flexible and versatile solution – users can model a wide range of assets from water and gas pipelines to bridges and structures.

Finally, the software is used by clients to optimise decisions about millions of assets and is “very scalable”, Jonkergouw claims.

The collaboration with Tetra Tech has been key to demonstrating the capability of the platform, with pavement data gathered from Tetra Tech’s road surveys represented on the Aim platform. This includes road condition and measurements. Combined with user-defined pavement models in the software, the data helps to determine an optimal pavement maintenance and rehabilitation strategy.

Tetra Tech transportation asset management manager Bryan Palsat explains: “We collect data and use it to forecast future conditions and maintenance and rehabilitation needs, to maintain the overall integrity of the asset and to demonstrate compliance with the performance requirements. But we also use it to devise a way to do this at the lowest reasonable present value cost.”

At the core of Probit’s Aim platform are risk maps that visualise failure vulnerability of assets. They can capture the many variables needed to help make investment decisions, depicting them as risk nodes, and showing the relationship between them.

Careful assessment of the need for action – such as road resurfacing for smoothness and adding thickness for strength, along with the sequencing of a works programme – can make a difference of millions of pounds.

“We forecast different aspects of these assets – [for example] age, rutting, cracking. We had a forecast of what would happen to these roads over a given amount of time, say 20 years,” Jonkergouw says.

“The software compares what happens if you leave your assets to get worse compared to what happens if you do a replacement and renew this road segment. It evaluates billions of these options and helps to decide which are best to do.”

A particular challenge for the Interstate 595 is the type of surfacing on most of the express and general purpose lanes, Palsat explains.

“It uses a unique asphalt mixture – an open graded mixture with an unusual aggregate type – which is not atypical in the industry but not typical for the area, which increases the cost,” he says.

“So opportunities to optimise the replacement of that surfacing because it is so expensive was an objective. And then, of course, the performance specifications themselves were fairly complex.”

Proof of concept

The benefits of the trial have undoubtedly been felt by the client.

“In the client’s eyes having a plan you can rely on is important. When you’re dealing with investors, you want to have a reasonable forecast of what the funding needs will be year on year,” Palsat says. “This provides credibility to the outcome and clear work that has to be done.”

Tetra Tech is now continuing its work with Probit, taking the I595 project as proof of concept and investing in the software’s use on other transport networks in Canada.

Meanwhile, Probit is exploring the software’s use on other infrastructure.

“Now we’ve learned these things are achievable we want to implement them for various projects,” says Jonkergouw, adding that there is a lot of potential for its use in the UK where the firm has already worked with Thames Water and Cadent Gas.

Probit is also working on a roads project with West Sussex County Council “using the UK approach to modelling this same kind of asset base and putting that into Aim,” says Jonkergouw.

Here, data is gathered from several sources including traffic speed surveys; vehicles operated by Surface Condition Assessment for the National Network of Roads and for the Traffic-speed Condition Survey; visual inspections and skid-resistance tests.

As in Florida, this data is then represented on the Aim software and used to inform decision making.

Jonkergouw adds: “UK highways are operated by local authorities and we’re working hard to try to replicate the models used in the UK and put those in our software.”

The scope for Probit’s software to improve asset management decisions looks set to continue on both sides of the Atlantic, and potentially beyond.

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