Newsletter: PASER Study A Road Map for Success

Michigan’s winter weather will soon be hitting the pavement with heavy snowfalls and freeze-thaw cycles leaving communities with bumpy roads ahead. Community leaders and road commissioners will find themselves once again doing repairs to keep your roadways safe.

In Michigan, the change of seasons takes an annual toll on transportation networks and road budgets. As a leader in your community, how do you best use public funds in the most fiscally responsible way to protect and maintain your roads?

Getting the best mileage from your roadway dollars starts with PASER ratings. PASER is an acronym for Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating. It is a system for visually rating the surface condition of a pavement from a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being in a failed condition and 10 being in excellent condition.

Guidelines for rating the pavement surface using the PASER system have been developed by the Michigan Transportation Asset Management Council. The visual inspection to evaluate pavement surface conditions, when assessed by a qualified technician correctly, provides a basis for comparing the quality of roadway segments. The advantage of this method is that roads may be assessed consistently, constantly and quickly.

“Our roads change from year to year and lately have been adversely impacted by the weather and high water,” said Chris Brown, Pentwater’s Village Manager. “That’s why the PASER ratings are so important. You can go from a 10 to zero if you’re not on top of it and then wonder how you got there.”

A PASER study is one tool officials throughout Michigan use as a practical, no-nonsense component to their Road Asset Management Plans. Engineers evaluate streets and produce a map showing the PASER ratings. This study, which is done every two years, helps project future road repairs in the community as part of a 10-year comprehensive plan.

In and of itself, the PASER study does not define the schedule of the roadwork. Communities are required to prioritize, focusing first on major roads. After major roads, officials evaluate the local roads for “greatest need,” which involves traffic volume, school access, etc. Community leaders also factor in residential complaints about roads into the overall equation.


While observing the road segment, condition ratings are assigned by monitoring the type and numbers of visual defects along a road. These conditions account for a wide range of pavement distresses, like cracking, rutting, raveling, and potholes. It also provides a way to compare roads within a community and helps suggest the type of maintenance that may be needed.

Routine maintenance, such as crack sealing, should occur when the road is in good condition (PASER 8-10). Preventative maintenance, such as non-structural overlays and joint repair, should occur when the pavements are in fair to good condition (PASER 5-7). Reconstruction, which is a most costly fix, should be reserved for segments that exhibit a structural failure of the pavement (PASER 1-4).

Paying attention to roads that have PASER ratings between 5 and 7 can provide the best value to your community. Here, you can maximize your financial resources by providing preventative maintenance rather than costly reconstruction. This is why it’s recommended that communities direct funds toward roads classified as “5 – 6 – 7” that can usually be improved and preserved by resurfacing — a vastly less expensive alternative to total reconstruction.

Brown said Pentwater uses the ratings for Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) compliance reporting and for deciding when to do Capital Improvement projects.

“We’re always trying to stretch our road repair dollars and the road surveys really help us evaluate the latest information,” Brown said. “With the help of our consultant, PASERs give you a real good picture, with graphs showing the trends. You can easily see which roads are declining and that makes it easier for our Village Council to decide what road to fix next.”

PASER results also help identify what type of construction materials worked or didn’t work for a road in the long-term and are useful in Capital Improvement Plans. They help officials show the general public the need for specific projects.

Developing or revising a CIP is typically done each year in conjunction with the community’s budget process. Completing a PASER study can maximize your funds and, in some cases, prioritize the utilities that need fixing at the same time.

If you need help in completing a PASER study, establishing a CIP or road plan going forward, or help with road budgets or project selection, contact Don DeVries, PE at 800.494.5202 or at