In engineering, quality control (QC) is related to systems development in order to ensure that products or services meet or exceed, the expectations and needs of users and the wider community. Concerning road infrastructures, it can be said that asset management and QC are two sides of the same coin. Though they belong to the domain of public service, their management mechanism can be conducted by the state or under a private public partnership. However, in both cases, there is an increasing need of developing strategies to ensure the quality of the entire system, with the aim of reducing the risk of unexpected costs.
Road asset management is a task of great responsibility, since it involves vital assets to the community. They allow us, for example, to reach our workplaces, services, schools, to transport goods to their various sale points or to make the most of our free time. An efficient transportation network is essential for the modern society from the economic, societal and environmental point of view. Today, it is a challenge for operators to manage road infrastructures under their responsibility in an efficient way, meeting the present and future needs of the community they serve.
Roadway bridges, together with other roadway structures, such as tunnels, are the most critical components of road infrastructures. Throughout their life, they require regular maintenance actions whose costs are generally supported by the operator. Accordingly, it becomes important to define strategies to maximize the societal benefits, derived from the investment made in these assets. This investment should be planned, effectively managed and technically supported by appropriate management systems.
Some of the main outcomes from the correct implementation of strategies for roadway bridges management are: (i) an improved user satisfaction, by improving the quality of provided service; (ii) an improved sustainable performance; (iii) a guarantee of a pre-specified safety level; (iv) an optimized return of investment; (v) a long-term planning and reliable performance; (vi) an improved risk management.
For this purpose, the authorities need to produce an asset management plan, which should not only define the goals to be achieved by exploiting the roadway bridge network, but that should also identify the investment needs and priorities based on a life cycle cost criteria. In addition, a proper condition assessment of these assets must be conducted to support the decision-making process regarding their preservation. A set of maintenance operations, carefully planned and executed at proper time, is then established through this process. This will allow to reduce the risk of further deterioration, minimize costs and, simultaneously, ensure the quality of delivered service.
All over the world, the need to manage roadway bridges in an efficient way led to the development of management systems. Hence, nowadays, many countries have their own system. Although, they present a similar architectural framework, several differences can be appointed, for example, with regard to the condition assessment procedure. These differences constitute a divergent mechanism that may conduct to different decisions on maintenance actions.
Within the roadway bridge management process, the identification of maintenance needs is more effective when developed in a uniform and repeatable manner. This process can be accomplished by the evaluation of performance indicators, improving the planning of maintenance strategies.
Therefore, a discussion at a European networking level, seeking to achieve a standardized approach in this subject, will bring significant benefits.
In this context, a first step would be the establishment of specific recommendations for the assessment of roadway bridges, namely, used methods for the quantification of performance indicators. A set of reference time periods for these assessment actions should be also presented. A second step would be the definition of standardized performance goals. Finally, a guideline for the establishment of QC plans in roadway bridges would be developed. In these plans, it is emphasized the importance of advanced deterioration prediction models. Moreover, the concept of sustainable roadway bridge management, involving the evaluation of environmental, economic and social performance indicators during the whole life cycle, is also highlighted.
Since this Action has a high societal relevance, it is important for Europe to sponsor a wide collaborative network of several stakeholders, namely, partners from research and practicing community, aiming to joint efforts to build consensus on this subject. It will be also involved, on such network, people from different research fields, such as on-site testing, visual inspection, numerical modelling, asset management, sustainability, etc. Comparing with other research frameworks, it is thus verified that COST is the best mechanism for this Action, as it is necessary to promote the discussion at a European level on this field, through the support of networking and capacity-building activities.