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Understanding Roadway User Maintenance Agreements: Increase Certainty/Decrease Risks

Road Use Maintenance Agreements (RUMA) are contracts between public Agencies that own and maintain public roads, and private companies that want to use those roads.

RUMAs make the private companies responsible for repairing damages caused to the roads by their use. RUMAs may go by many different names, including Haul Route Agreements, Excess Maintenance Agreements, or simply Road Bonding. Regardless of the title, the objective of these Agreements is to protect the public assets from accelerated damages that are above and beyond normal wear and tear and to preserve public safety and accessibility. Certainly, goals of the agency and the private company should be aligned, but the expectations and penalties shouldn’t be left to chance. A handshake to ‘leave it better than you found it’ leaves both the Agency and the private company at significant financial and operational risk when something goes wrong.

The RUMA process involves several steps, including:

1. Establishing Requirements and Expectations

2. Establishing the Four Corners of the Agreement

3. Hauling and Road Maintenance, and

4. Closeout

1 – Establishing Requirements and Expectations

RUMAs may be required for several reasons, which vary greatly between states, agencies, project types and hauling activities. Most states have passed laws allowing agencies to enact permanent or seasonal weight limits* on roads, which can be exceeded only if the hauler enters into a RUMA. Other states have passed laws that require the execution of a RUMA as a prerequisite to certain other state permit approvals, such as Oil & Gas well drilling permits. Still other States and Agencies have laws that target (or exempt) specific industries or hauling activities and require those targeted industries to enter into RUMAs. In some cases, Federal, State or local Agencies, such as FERC or state utility boards, establish conditions of their project reviews that require the private companies to repair any damages caused to public roads as a result of project construction. And in other cases, the Agencies ask or expect certain road users to repair any damages caused.

It’s important that all projects with hauling activities understand the applicable laws and perform outreach to the Agencies having jurisdiction over public roads to become fully informed of the laws and expectations concerning road use. This should be done during the project planning stages to determine if maintenance of public roads will become a project requirement.

2 – Establishing the Four Corners of the Agreement

RUMAs are contracts between private companies and public agencies. They include contractual terms and outline practical application of the Agreement, document the responsibilities of the parties, and establish enforcement mechanisms when those expectations are not met. The Agreement should specify which hauling activities are covered by the agreement, and a method of determining damages caused. As legal contracts, they should be reviewed by legal counsel to check for inconsistencies vs the law and to provide perspective on the associated risks.

Coordination with Agency Representatives

The performance of RUMA obligations is typically coordinated between Highway Engineers, Road Superintendents, Maintenance Foreman or Permit Coordinators on behalf of Agencies. These Agency representatives will have extensive knowledge of their road system and particular preferences concerning the performance of maintenance. Early coordination with Agency representatives will allow the private companies to participate in the development of Agreements and implementation plans. It is highly recommended that private companies engage professionals with knowledge and experience equal to the Agency representatives so they may work hand in hand with the Agencies to represent the best interests of the company while drafting the Agreement with ordinary and straightforward language.

Determining Haul Routes

A key part of this step is determining which public roads will be used by the private company and thus be covered by the terms of the Agreement. Perhaps no other planning step has a greater impact on the cost and risks of hauling than the selection of haul routes. The objective with Haul Route Planning is to determine the best route to get from an origin to a destination. Populating an accurate record of the road owner, road width, surface type, and other road properties creates a stable foundation for haul route planning and performance of RUMA requirements. Locating potential restrictions to truck traffic, such as weight restricted bridges, tight curves, tight intersections, humped railroad crossings and low overpasses, can be done with out-of-date public data, but proactive haulers can actively collect updated data to capture current conditions. Identification of safety concerns, such as school zones, high accident areas, locations of traffic congestion, sight distance restrictions and flood prone areas, provide more value to the planning exercise. All parties, including the company, contractor and agency should be involved with haul route planning.

2b - Preparing to Haul

After the Agreement is fully executed, the private company should develop a plan to comply with its terms. This includes designating decisions makers, identifying road maintenance expectations and repair methods, resourcing sufficient manpower, equipment and materials, and establishing project budgets. The plan also needs to include education for all the employees, contractors and subcontractors so that they are aware of the RUMA restrictions. Engaging all the stakeholders also allows for the development of a reporting system, where any driver can report travel off route, or maintenance needs or unsafe conditions.

Having high quality geo referenced imagery of the existing conditions of the roads will be critical to determining damages caused and repairs required, and for resolving disputes. Poor imagery, such as dash cam videos, videos during poor weather conditions, or while traveling at a high rate of speed, do not provide sufficient quality to accurately identify the condition of the road surface. Investing in quality imagery is a clear way to alleviate problems that may arise, which will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

3 – Hauling and Road Maintenance

Once hauling begins, continual communication with the agency is essential. The project should let the agency know where and when there will be heavy traffic, and all the details about what road maintenance the company believes is necessary. A project’s public perception is impacted by how the project affects traffic, road safety and road conditions. Undoubtedly, the agency will be receiving public input concerning the project and road maintenance, and open lines of communication will help the agency be prepared to answer those questions. Continual communication will help prevent escalated situations that may result in the project being shut down.

Roadway maintenance best practice requires applying the right treatment at the right time. For RUMA maintenance, decision makers need to consider the details of the Agreement and the project. Is the project nearly complete with hauling on a certain road or has it just begun? The private company needs to make sure it’s spending money in the right place at the right time on the right repair method.

Ultimately, predicting the amount of damage caused in advance is difficult because there are so many variables. But no other variable is as significant as the hauling schedule. The time of year, soil conditions, weather and road properties need to be considered daily before making a decision to haul. More damage can be caused by a single truck that travels on the wrong day than thousands of trucks on a different day.

4 – Close Out

When the company has completed hauling and is ready to close the Agreement in whole or in part, the company needs to revisit their strategy and implementation plan. The terms of the Agreement will provide the mechanics and requirements, but the team should consider how the road conditions, decision makers, relationships and expectations have changed over time. It may be beneficial for the company to do an independent review and proactively restore the roadways to their pre-existing condition, however the risk is that the project aims too low (or too high) and misses the expectations of the agency. Inversely, the company may defer to the Agency to determine if damages have been caused and establish how the roads are to be restored. In most Agreements, the Agency holds the final say, with such contract clauses as ‘company shall correct all deficiencies to the County’s reasonable satisfaction’.

When reviewing the change in road conditions with the Agency, issues typically arise around determining if damage was caused, and if so, who caused it, and to what extent is the Company liable. Practical engineering principals do not exist to definitively answer these questions. Applying complex engineering analysis to entire roadway networks for theoretical computation is wasted effort. Typically, the parties are able to openly discuss the facts, but if not, the Agency and Company should consider applying standard methodologies. If high quality geo referenced 360° video imagery is collected before hauling, then visual methods, such as PASER, PCI and others can be performed after the fact, and only when needed.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement on the repairs required, the Agreement will provide direction for dispute resolution. It’s advantageous to enter these resolutions with the best evidence and representation. Documentation is the best defense and evidence doesn’t lie. Document the pre-hauling conditions, hauling activities, maintenance performed and decisions just in case issues arise.

TurnKey logistics has a team of highly experienced engineers, construction managers and construction inspectors that have been able to find middle ground between the opposing priorities of the Agencies and the private companies. Our Turn360 imagery coupled with our professional experience will provide stakeholders with indisputable evidence of the initial condition of the roads and peace of mind that the RUMA requirements of both parties are upheld.

* Note that the weight limits on roads are handled differently than the weight limits on bridges. The discussions in this article pertain to weight restrictions on roads only.

**RUMAs are typically separate from Oversize/Overweight vehicle permitting, however they can be combined, which can have advantages and disadvantages. Typically, the laws provide opportunity for the Agency to ‘require the OS/OW permit applicant to develop and enter into a mutual agreement with the Agency to compensate for or to repair excess damage caused to the roadway by travel under the permit.’ When OS/OW vehicles are operating on the same haul roads as legal-size loads, it's technically infeasible to separate damages caused by OS/OW vs. legal loads, and thus these types of Agreements effectively make the private company responsible for damages caused by all vehicles.


By: Brian Hoffheins, P.E., Principal, TurnKey Logistics, LLC

March 10, 2023

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