Curb Ramps – Alterations vs. Maintenance

The video recordings for the ADA Resurfacing Technical Assistance Webinars have not been provided yet[1], but here is a copy of the brief (docx or pdf) and presentation (pptx or pdf) that was provided in today’s session.

The key point that I[2] took away from the webinar and Joint Technical Assistance was that specific pavement treatments[3] are now considered alterations[4]:

Distinguishing alterations from maintenance based on the type of road surface treatment

Distinguishing alterations from maintenance based on the type of road surface treatment

The Joint Technical Assistance provides a single Federal policy that clarifies the application of curb ramps. Addressing curb ramps will be triggered by the type of road surface treatment project:

  • Alterations require the installation of curb ramps.
  • Maintenance applications do not require curb ramps at the time of the improvement[5].

Here was another helpful slide provided to determine if your project requires the installation or update of curb ramps:

Application of Curb Ramp Flowchart

Application of Curb Ramp Flowchart

Based on questions/comments from the webinar (and emails and comments from my site), it’s clear that this policy is gaining more attention from those involved with the delivery of road maintenance projects. If you’re interested in learning more about the topic, please refer to the various links that I’ve added throughout this post.


  1. FHWA did not provide an estimated time that the video recordings will be available. Questions and answers will not be provided in a separate document.  ↩
  2. There was other information provided in the brief and presentation. I recommend reviewing those documents to see if there are any other points of interest to you. Please consider sharing your thoughts in the comments to benefit other site visitors.  ↩
  3. Here’s a link to the glossary of terms used in the Joint Technical Assistance. It’s helpful in defining the different types of road surface treatments.  ↩
  4. Many engineers (including myself) don’t agree with how some of the types of treatments were classified, but FHWA advised participants that the decisions were not engineering-based. They were made by negotiations with DOJ.  ↩
  5. While its not required at the time of the improvement, the application of curb ramps should be included the agency’s ADA Transition Plan.  ↩

About David Giongco

David is a registered civil engineer with the Caltrans Division of Local Assistance. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter and at LinkedIn.

10 thoughts on “Curb Ramps – Alterations vs. Maintenance

  1. The graphic in this article indicates that Cape Seals are (rightly) considered maintenance and don’t trigger the requirement for ADA accommodation. However, the link to DOJ/FHWA Joint Technical Assistance still lists a cape seal as an alteration triggering ADA accommodation.

    Was this issue of cape seals resolved???

    John L. Fuller, PE

  2. Thank you for the immediate blog following the webinar. As an engineer and a taxpayer I’m very disappointed that traditional methods of maintenance (i.e. micro-surfacing, cape seals, combo seals, etc.) are now considered alterations based on negotiations only and not sound engineering.

    • Hi Erica, I was disappointed to hear that too. Other participants in the webinar pointed out the concern over the designating Cape Seals as an alteration. I’m not sure how the policy is going to affect maintenance strategies moving forward, but I wanted to help get the info out.

      • I’m guess, but if the intent of the “Cape seal” decision was to get more H/C ramps installed this will not happen. Cape seal usage will decline based purely on economics. At SF Bay Area prices four H/C ramps cost as much or more than the cost to Cape seal a 1,000 ft x 32 ft. street. This makes Cape seal twice as costly to the public agency as a “maintenance” treatment. Agencies will look for more cost effective treatments and cape seal use will decline. Or, agencies will chip seal one year and slurry in another year to attempt to avoid the H/C ramp liability and still use Cape seal.

  3. We couldn’t join the seminar due to an array of techinal and security issues that always seem to plague these webinars, so we missed what was discussed. I have been involved with the issue of ADA retrofits since before they originally negoitated away thin overlays as being a maintenance treatment. The impact was huge then. The reason being that you are not just talking about bringing curb ramps to current ADA standards, but also the entire continous path that can be traversed by individuals with disabilities. This includes deficient sidewalks and older driveway approaches (about 80% of the driveways in older neighborhoods) that do not current ADA grade requirements. This strangled many pavement rehab budgets at that time and the roadways suffered for it. The reason the DOJ is going after cape seal and mirco-surfacing projects has nothing to do with engineering, but because many jurisdictions are forced to substitute these treatments for overlays due to the above and the prolonged extremely tough budget times. There is no way that local jurisdictions can continue to adequately maintain their streets in this scenario if the above is true (unless locals are allowed to start printing currency like the feds.) Are we talking about only updating curb returns or the whole enchilada? I would be suprised if the DOJ settled for just the curb ramps.

    • The DOJ is just calling for ramp improvements for now, but even then it’s tough to stretch the maintenance budget as John Fuller commented above. When we’ve completed a reconstruct or recycle in place project, the ADA improvements are approximately 10% of the project, but with a micro it’s going to be closer to 50% or even 70%+ since we’re dealing with older neighborhoods. Hard to impact a lot of streets that way so roads will just continue to degrade.

    • Hi Paul, the message that we heard in the webinar is that only the curb ramps are required to be updated with the project. The ADA deficient sidewalks can be deferred until later, but must be in the County’s transition plan.

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