Maintenance planning

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The objective of maintenance planning is to allocate resources and keep paths in a condition suitable for the users to use safely. Whether it is an individual path, a path network or an area access strategy, maintenance requires planning from the outset. If we find ourselves trying to plan a maintenance programme after a path has been constructed, it will be too late to minimise the long term cost of managing the path – some aspects of design can be used to help manage paths more efficiently.

For each feature including the path surface, there should be define an acceptable condition or wear limit, which is used to assess whether items need to be repaired, replaced or upgraded. Most complex structures, such as bridges, should have these conditions as part of their design. There may need to be a judgement call for other items, such as drains, to decide how much change to the original condition is acceptable. For example, some ditches may still function adequately in normal conditions at half capacity if they were designed to cope with ‘extreme flooding’ events, and an acceptable wear limit for a whin dust path could be 25% exposure of base layer showing through the surface.

It can be helpful to assess the maintenance needs of individual paths and then combine the data to make a maintenance schedule for the network as a whole – this will probably make completing some maintenance tasks more cost effective and reduce the number of visits required to maintain paths within an area. This will also provide a opportunity to take a strategic approach to path maintenance.

Although it can be difficult to find time to undertake this planning work if you are accustomed to working reactively to path maintenance, it will improve the decision making process and provide managers or funders with clear criteria to assess any requests for resources.

It is helpful to consider two distinct approaches to path maintenance:

  • Planned maintenance – carry out tasks to a regular routine, to prevent problems before they occur.

  • Reactive repairs – look for potential problems and deal with them – inspection and correction.

Generally, it is best to use a combination of the two approaches, based on what maintenance tasks are needed and what resources are available. To be effective you must do planned maintenance when you can, but also have the capacity to react to unforeseen circumstances. Avoid waiting for things to go wrong before they get attention.

The worst case scenario is to neglect a path completely until it is no longer usable, and then have to carry out a major repair. The cost of one major repair could fund planned maintenance and will cause inconvenience to the people who want to use the path. It is also a risky ‘strategy’ as funders may not be particularly sympathetic to picking up the cost of previous neglect, so you are left with a damaged path and no way of securing the funds to repair it, or replace or upgrade it in the future when the time comes.

For more information have a look at these sections:

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