Certification Marks New Era in Preservation
BY Tom Kuennen
The concept of pavement preservation is spreading across the United States, and as agencies get serious about it—and federal dollars go toward preservation—certification of agency forces and contractors also has taken a foothold.
“We’ve made real progress in penetration of pavement preservation into state agencies,” said National Center for Pavement Preservation (NCPP) Director Dr. Judith Corley-Lay, P.E. “Last year we had 47 states voluntarily pay for participation in the TSP•2 pavement and bridge preservation partnerships. That says an enormous amount how states have bought into the preservation concept.”
System pavement preservation also meets the asset management requirements for state agencies introduced by MAP-21 federal surface transportation legislation. As pavement preservation spreads, certification is spreading as well.
There is nothing new about certification in highway construction. As early as 1974 the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO) worked to develop a contractor certification program, and in 1976 AASHTO endorsed the program for voluntary use by state DOTs. These early certification programs were focused on pavement rehabilitation, reconstruction or new construction.
At the time maintenance preservation treatments were frequently self-performed by state agencies. The change in legislation to allow use of federal funds for preservation—for which FP2 fought—has made certification more desirable for pavement preservation, as well as out-sourcing of the treatments in many agencies.
A federal regulation requiring the use of qualified technicians on federal-aid highway projects went into effect June 29, 2000. Today, to receive federal funding for highway and bridge projects a quality control/quality assurance (QC/QA) program must be in place to make sure certified personnel are testing and inspecting materials used on those projects.
Also fueling expansion of certification was the 2015 NCHRP Synthesis 483: Training and Certification of Highway Maintenance Workers, which explored the extent and need for certification on a national basis.
The Transportation System Preservation Technical Services Program (TSP•2) was initiated as an efficient means to disseminate information to AASHTO member agencies for preserving their highway infrastructure, including both pavements and bridges.
To bring certification to pavement preservation, the AASHTO TSP•2 oversight panel approved implementation of a pavement preservation certification program April 13, 2016, to be administered by NCPP as an independent assessment entity. The program has two different tracks: Agency Certification, and Contractor Certification.
Today, following web-based training established by the International Slurry Surfacing Association (ISSA), treatments available for certification include slurry systems, which covers micro surfacing, slurry seals and polymer modified slurry; chip seals; and crack treatments.
An overview of this training is available at http://www.slurry.org/page/education.
“Historically many agencies performed their preservation function using in-house forces,” Corley-Lay said. “Over time the pendulum has swung toward more outsourcing of maintenance functions. When that happens you have contractors taking on work that historically they have not done, and you have a new area of inspection for state forces which historically have inspected new construction, not preservation.
“Taking cores and gradation samples does not necessarily prepare you to inspect chip seals,” she added. “We need to up our game to guarantee that states and local agencies are getting the products they need, and that contractor personnel have the knowledge they need to make on-the-run decisions in the field.”
Certification of agency personnel under this program will ensure that future investments in preservation treatments will pay off, said Larry Galehouse, P.E., then-director of the NCPP, and Rex Eberly, global sales manager, Bergkamp Inc., in a presentation at the National Pavement Preservation Conference 2016 held in Nashville.
Certification also establishes individuals in the agency as technical experts. Larry Galehouse and Eberly said ideally agency-certified individuals will include one senior-level inspector and design engineer from each district or region, an engineering/preservation specialist from the agency headquarters, and outside consultants who are providing outsourced inspection services.
The agency participation in the certification program is voluntary, and individuals who pass the certification exam receive a certification card, which is valid for three years. The exam consists of 50 questions focusing on fundamental aspects of the treatment, such as project selection, materials and inspection points. The exam requires a minimum score of 70 percent to pass.
NCPP recommends that test-takers—whether agency or contractor staff—undergo a one-day training session based on ISSA’s online offerings. “We at NCPP offer training,” Corley-Lay said. “If people want instructor-led training, we are equipped and happy to do that. But the trend nationally is web-based training, and while there are advantages to having an instructor who can respond to that ‘look’ of the student who is not quite getting it, and can go back and state things a different way, the trend still is toward web-based training.”
“Web-based training can be at one’s own pace, and can be done in an office setting, or a group setting where the employees go through it together,” Neal Galehouse, NCPP engineering specialist, said. “NCPP has put together a preparation guide that has additional information about the treatments. The ISSA training and the prep guide are the basis for the content of the exam.”
NCPP will administer exams on-site to groups of 20 or more, and at the user’s option, will conduct a refresher before the exam is given. “We’ve done it both ways,” he added. “The day of exam review is two to three hours, and after a period of questions, we will give the exam.”
Alternatively, NCPP has offered exams during ISSA’s annual Slurry Systems Workshop. Neal Galehouse said, “We are beginning to offer the exams in conjunction with the TSP•2 regional pavement preservation partnership meetings.” Individuals or small groups also may receive an exam through an independent university proctor center; most states have numerous locations available for proctoring the exam.
Indiana DOT Certifies
The Indiana DOT (IDOT) has certified its staff for certain pavement preservation treatments.
“We thought the certification offered by TSP•2 to be a good opportunity for our crews, as we do all of our chip seals in-house,” said Todd Shields, P.E., maintenance field support manager for IDOT. “It was a great training opportunity, and the actual training certification card really means a lot to those guys.”
The state undertakes training all the time, but the card is something special to the individuals who earned it via the certification exam. “Having the certificate, or card, shows that you passed the test and accomplished something,” Shields said. “We also gave a small bonus to the guys who passed the exam.”
The process began in early spring 2017. “We have six districts, and combined each of two districts so we had three training sessions,” he said. “We called it the Chip Seal Kickoff and used the ISSA web-based training. We went through it as a group and out of those we had a group move on to the certification exam in April.”
Certification is not compulsory, nor is it written into the spec. Still, it made sense for IDOT.
“We are doing more and more chip seals in-house, and wanted to make sure our people were trained properly,” Shields said. “Our core crews are the operators of the distributors and the chip box, and we have sub district managers and unit foremen who are involved, and they constitute those who underwent ISSA training. We didn’t want to bring all 100-plus employees in to be certified; we just focused on a certain group.”
Thus the DOT had its full complement of workers go through the ISSA training, and a few weeks later NCPP did refresher training to a select 36 who took the exam. The refresher took place on a morning, and the exam in the afternoon. “There is a 50-question exam for agencies, which is geared toward supervisors and inspectors, and an exam for contractors, which is more ‘nuts-and-bolts’ equipment-oriented,” Shields said. “Because we do our own chip seals, we took the 80-question contractor exam.” Of the 36, 34 passed the exam and were certified. Those who didn’t pass got another chance later.
Certification in spring paid off quickly during the season, Shields said. “When we started right out of the gate in May, in two districts things didn’t go well on the jobs,” he said. “The guys that were certified were able to recognize that something was wrong and they were able to stop the jobs and figure it out. Previously, the mindset had been that production was tops and that we had to keep going. We averted two major failures because we were able to spot what was going on and correct it.”
Complementary to government agency forces certification is private sector contractor certification, but it takes place within a different framework.
“So far about 35 percent of the total people certified have been with contractors,” Corley-Lay said. “Some of the contractors that have had employees certified are now using that certification as part of their marketing. Some contractors see there is a benefit for them in having employees certified.”
“We have had a number of contractors come forward in areas where no certification requirement is currently in place, and have sent their employees to take the exam,” Galehouse said. “They see it as a benefit to the quality of their product.”
Alone among the states, only Nevada requires a contractor to be certified prior to placement of certain preservation treatments. In 2016, the Nevada DOT began requiring contractors to be AASHTO TSP2-certified in order to perform work on Nevada DOT chip seals and micro surfacing projects. This requirement is now also being specified for agency people and for consultant personnel facilitating the projects.
Earlier this year, the Western Region Association for Pavement Preservation (WRAPP) partnered with the University of Nevada-Reno, the Nevada DOT, and the NCPP to bring pavement preservation training and certification to Reno. On March 28, certification training was attended by over 60 people from contractor and public agencies in California and Nevada. It was provided free of charge to agency attendees on a first-come, first-served basis, reported the June CP2 Center News, published by the California Pavement Preservation Center. Topics included pavement preservation concepts, evolving specifications, and construction techniques. This training was designed to prepare people for the certification exam the following day.
The “joint” certification requirement—for both agency and contractor personnel—is a step toward producing consistent high-quality treatments, reported Roger Smith, pavement specialist with the California Pavement Preservation (CP2) Center at Chico State University.
“The program currently provides certifications for fog seals, chip seals, slurry systems, and crack treatments,” Smith said.
Following the March 28 training, 25 people took the AASHTO TSP•2 certification exam, nine of them from California. NCPP’s Galehouse administered the tests.
Quality Control Plant
“The certification process has been reviewed and approved by ISSA’s board of directors, and we’ve worked hard to make it a process that works well for the agency and contractor, has teeth so it means something, and will do what it takes to get better quality work out on the road,” Bergkamp’s Eberly said, in his joint presentation at NPPC 2016.
“We [at ISSA] wanted to make sure the contractor is certified as an entity,” he said. “The company is responsible for certification: they need to have a properly trained work force, including specific employees to be certified, and they need to have and use a detailed quality control plan. To me that’s the most important part: the education is important, the testing is important, but what’s best is that we have a quality control plan that’s put together by the contractor, and that the contractor and agency both understand the plan, as they have certified people. Our hope is that the QC/QM plan is used daily on the project.”
A contractor company is certified for one year, and requires renewal. Employees are certified for three years. “We want to certify company superintendents, and/or a trainer, a top level person in management whose responsibility is to manage the crews,” Eberly said. “The foreman on a job needs to be certified, as well as the machine operator on a micro surfacing or slurry crew.”
The quality control plan must define the expected results and describe how those results will be achieved. It must detail the steps a contractor will go through to have a successful project, and how the contractor will determine that a problem will cause a project to not be successful, and the steps that will be taken to get the project back on track. That plan will provide a list of materials to be tested, what tests will be conducted, the location of the sampling, and testing frequency. A detailed testing schedule must be established.
Article contributed by FP2 Inc. For more information, visit fp2.org.