Drivers often remember the roads that are bad as opposed to the roads that are good. That section of potholed road where they nearly lost their right front tire stands out more than a smooth, defect-free, almost boring section of road. This puts public works engineers in a difficult bind. They have to balance maintaining their road pavements based on citizen complaints and other requests with more objective information obtained from regular field inspections and an established program for repair. This is the battle of Best First versus Worst First maintenance philosophies.
The most common method for rating the condition of a road section is the PCI, or pavement condition index. The PCI ranges from 0 to 100, with 0 being a failed road section littered with distresses such as potholes, alligator cracks, rutting, etc. Rather than spending 4-5 times (or more) to rehabilitate or reconstruct a road section, it is more cost-effective on a network level to allocate repair funds to sections before they slip into the costly maintenance category. This generally means applying some type of surface seal, crack sealing and/or other preventive maintenance measures on the roads in fair to satisfactory condition. Utilizing a Best First approach allows agencies to spread their maintenance dollars to more roads and accrue additional funds for more costly repairs.