Cornell Local Roads Program

The ADA and Its Application in Pavement Repairs

The ADA was enacted in 1990 as law to prohibit discrimination against Americans with disabilities. As part of the original act, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, and accessibility is required at public places. The ADA covers both physical and mental medical conditions.

ADA banner

Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination by all public entities, including school districts, municipalities, cities, counties, and states, and requires physical access to all programs and services offered by those entities including, as described by the Foundation for Pavement Preservation, “access to pedestrian routes in the public right-of-way.” This has typically been accomplished by the addition of curb ramps at pedestrian cross walks when streets, roads and highways are altered.

USDOJ logo USDOT logo

With the advent of MAP-21 and its clarification on what types of pavement preservation practices are eligible for federal funding, came a Technical Assistance (TA) memorandum in 2013 from the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Justice (DOJ). This TA mandates that curb ramps are required when streets, roads, or highways are altered through resurfacing. Under the 1990 ADA, actions considered alterations were reconstruction, rehabilitation, resurfacing, and widening, and did not include maintenance activities. The 2013 TA memorandum separates treatments to identify which activities are maintenance and which are alterations, in an effort to help define the requirements of the ADA compliance. This memorandum applies to all roads, public and private. Many activities that had previously been considered maintenance are now considered alterations. The table below identifies the classification of pavement treatments as identified by the TA.

(ADA does not need to be addressed)
(ADA compliance must be addressed)
  • Surface sealing
  • Chip seals
  • Slurry seals
  • Fog seals
  • Scrub sealing
  • Joint crack seals
  • Joint repairs
  • Dowel bar retrofit
  • Spot high-friction treatments
  • Diamond grinding
  • Pavement patching
  • Open-graded surface course
  • Cape seals
  • Mill & fill/Mill & overlay
  • Hot & cold in-place recycling
  • Microsurfacing/Thin lift overlay
  • Addition of new layer of asphalt
  • Asphalt and concrete rehabilitation and reconstruction
  • New construction

As one can see, many of these treatments considered alterations are similar to some of the treatments typically considered maintenance. A cape seal is identified as an alteration, while the chip seals and slurry seals are not. A cape seal is chip seal with a slurry seal placed over it to improve the surface ride.

Disability symbols

While the concept of pavement management is the application of the right treatment at the right place at the right time, there have been too many cases where the needs of the handicapped have been overlooked. The bright line defined in the TA was drawn to compel agencies to put ADA access into their plans when doing work on a highway. Of course, it would be good to think about the needs of the handicapped in every case; the TA just provides a clear answer in when action is necessary.

If you are making any “alterations” as defined by the 2013 TA memorandum and you have sidewalks, you are required to comply with the ADA regulations. Since the most popular means of protecting your curb reveal is to mill the pavement prior to adding more, you will be required to add or upgrade your pedestrian curb access point. There have been reports of an additional 10-30% increase in expenses of a project when compliance is provided.


AEMA-ARRA-ISSA Newsletter 2014 Issue #1

When do you need to install ADA compliant curb ramps as part of a pavement resurfacing project?

Winter 2016

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This work by the Cornell Local Roads Program (CLRP) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.