Jim Snell operates the pavement data van, which uses three computers, four cameras and a laser to measure road and right-of-way conditions. Photo by Michael Buck
(As seen on WZZM TV 13) The peculiar-looking pavement condition data collection van working the streets in the member communities of the Grand Valley Metro Council isn’t new, but it keeps improving with advances in software and optical equipment.
It’s also the only one in the state owned by a government organization.
“If we didn’t have that, we would have to walk a lot of streets to take visual observations. We’ve got about 1,100 miles of street, so just think how long that would take,” said Grand Rapids City Engineer Mark DeClercq.
Abed Itani, director of the transportation department at GVMC, said the van is equipped with three computers for gathering data picked up by its four cameras and a five-point laser. The cameras capture up to 20 or 30 images per second of the lane the van is traveling in — at the posted speed limit.
The laser measures and records the size and depth of cracks in the pavement, while the cameras capture images of the signage next to the road and the condition of the right-of-way. All of the variables are recorded by the on-board computers and merged into one file for viewing on a computer screen with a geographic information system.
While sitting in front of a computer screen, “you can actually drive the road in your GIS system. It covers everything,” said Itani.
The minute inspection of the surface of the pavement “allows us to predict how good the pavement is and how long it’s going to last,” he said.
Which, of course, leads a Michigan resident to think of potholes.
“The potholes are one type of defect, but there are others that are also as important, if not more important — like cracking, drainage issues, rutting,” said Itani.
“Each surface fails for reasons, and you capture the reasons” with the data collection van, he added.
In 2006, after years of paying a consulting firm more than $230 per mile to collect data on more than 350 miles of pavement, the Metro Council bought its own specialized van at a cost of $460,000. The council also used it to inspect federally funded roads, and fees paid by the government recovered the purchase price over five years.
Now the cost to collect the data, using its own vehicle, costs GVMC and its members about $40 a mile. “You can see how much money we save,” said Itani.
“We are the only people who have that in the state of Michigan,” he added. “No other organization has anything close.”
Using the PASER (Pavement Surface Evaluation & Rating) system, that data yields a score from 1 to 10 for every road. Itani said the GVMC uses about $16 million from the federal government each year to fix 1,600 miles of main roads. Then the 32 member communities that are part of GVMC also use the data collected on another 800 miles of their local roads, when they are preparing applications for federal aid.
DeClercq said the van, packed full of advanced technology, provides GVMC communities “with a lot more meaningful data in a very efficient and effective manner.”
To view a map of the 2012 PASER Pavement Condition Rating for main roads in the GVMC area, see the website.