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Travel Quality Assessment of Urban Roads Based on International Roughness

Index: Case Study in Colombia

Article  in  Transportation Research Record Journal of the Transportation Research Board · January 2017
DOI: 10.3141/2612-01


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Luis Fuentes Juan S. Carvajal-Muñoz

Universidad del Norte (Colombia) University of Nottingham


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Travel Quality Assessment of Urban Roads
Based on International Roughness Index
Case Study in Colombia

Daniel Abudinen, Luis G. Fuentes, and Juan S. Carvajal Muñoz

Roughness is the main feature of the pavement surface that defines is generally defined as irregularities in the pavement surface that
user comfort. Pavement roughness is generally defined as irregulari- adversely affect the ride quality and the user perception of the road
ties in the pavement surface that adversely affect ride quality, specifi- condition. Roughness also impacts road safety, vehicle delay costs,
cally user perception of the road condition. This paper highlights the fuel consumption, and maintenance costs (5, 6). Pavement roughness
limitations associated with the evaluation and implementation of the is generally measured with laser-based measurement devices that
international roughness index (IRI) on urban roads. The paper focuses capture the longitudinal profile of the road and compute indexes
on (a) roughness evaluation with full-scale profilers and (b) conditions that reflect user perceptions of ride quality. These profilers operate
particular to urban roads—namely, traffic, intersections, and operating at traffic speed and can capture and record a vast quantity of data (7).
speeds. Given that the speed of urban networks is typically less than Roughness is typically evaluated through the international rough-
the 80 km/h used in the IRI quarter-car model, the implementation ness index (IRI), an index developed by the World Bank to assess
of the IRI model on urban roads was evaluated. Even though a given the surface condition of rural roads (8, ASTM E1926-08). The IRI
pavement surface reported a unique IRI value, user experience of the defines a characteristic of the longitudinal profile of a traveled wheel-
profile depended on the travel speed. This result was evidence that user path at a specific speed through the use of a standardized quarter car.
perceptions of road condition are highly influenced by travel speed. The Different researchers have identified problems associated with the
results suggested the need to develop a roughness index that captures use of the IRI to evaluate the condition of urban roads (9, 10). The
the unique characteristics of urban roads and can estimate the road riding speed in urban areas is considerably lower than the 80 km/h
condition as perceived by users. For that reason, this research study considered by the IRI quarter-car model (8, 9). Furthermore, urban
focused on establishing thresholds for IRI on the basis of the weighted roads present singularities, such as short segments with curved cross
vertical acceleration parameter as an aid to assessing user perception. sections, frequent intersections, numerous at-grade railway crossings,
The proposed method allows the maximum allowable IRI value for a and numerous locations with utility access boxes that significantly
given road to be established on the basis of the road’s operational speed. affect the IRI but do not necessarily have a large impact on the user
The results indicated that IRI thresholds agreed with international and perception of the road condition (10). In addition, the traffic conditions
local Colombian standards. of urban roads affect the optimal operating conditions of full-scale
roughness measuring systems; these effects may lead to results that
are not reliable.
Pavements are an essential aspect of the infrastructure of a country, This section will emphasize some relevant information about
and their condition has a direct impact on economic growth. They the topic being studied and reference previous similar research con-
provide communication links between urban, rural, and production ducted on urban roads. Yu et al. defined IRI thresholds for different
centers and transport not only people but also diverse products and operating speeds and took into consideration the changes of vertical
essential goods for the economic development of regions. Therefore, acceleration experienced by a vehicle, which the authors defined as
pavements help improve the life quality of citizens and make avail- “jolt”; the authors included an evaluation of 102 profiles on rural
able a wider range of products at lower costs than would otherwise roads from the SHRP Long-Term Pavement Performance database
be possible. from 1989 to 2002. From this study, the researchers were able to
“Serviceability” is defined as the ability of a pavement to serve propose the thresholds presented in Table 1 (11).
traffic, and this concept has been widely accepted by engineers and In a later study, Ahlin and Granlund identified some limitations
professionals for the assessment of pavement condition (1–3). Dif- on the use of the IRI to adequately assess roughness under vehicle-
ferent studies have shown the importance of roughness in surface specific operational conditions and describe the comfort experienced
condition and its significant correlation with serviceability, or pave- by the users of a given road network. In response to those limitations,
ment quality, as perceived by users (3, 4). “Pavement roughness” ISO 2631 was presented as an alternative method for measuring user
comfort as it took into account the vibrations perceived by the driver
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering, and passengers during a journey. This consideration is of special
Universidad del Norte, Km 5 Via Puerto Colombia, Barranquilla, Colombia. importance because the irregularities present in the pavement can
Corresponding author: L. G. Fuentes, lfuentes@uninorte.edu.co. be translated into vibrations or vertical accelerations to the users’
Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board,
bodies, which in turn could cause a sensation of comfort on smooth
No. 2612, 2017, pp. 1–10. surfaces and discomfort on rough surfaces (12, 13). The ISO 2631
http://dx.doi.org/10.3141/2612-01 standard (Evaluation of Human Exposure to Whole-Body Vibration)

2 Transportation Research Record 2612

TABLE 1   Suggested IRI Thresholds for Different Operational Speeds (11)

IRI Thresholds (m/km) for Various Operational Speeds

Quality 120 km/h 100 km/h 80 km/h 70 km/h 60 km/h 50 km/h 40 km/h 30 km/h 20 km/h 10 km/h

Very good <0.95 <1.14 <1.43 <1.63 <1.9 <2.28 <2.86 <3.8 <5.72 <11.44
Good 0.95–1.49 1.14–1.79 1.43–2.24 1.63–2.57 1.90–2.99 2.28–3.59 2.86–4.49 3.80–5.99 5.72–8.99 11.44–17.99
Fair 1.50–1.89 1.80–2.27 2.25–2.84 2.58–3.25 3.00–3.79 3.60–4.54 4.50–5.69 6.00–7.59 9.00–11.39 18.00–22.79
Poor 1.90–2.70 2.28–3.24 2.85–4.05 3.26–4.63 3.79–5.40 4.55–6.25 5.70–8.08 7.60–10.80 11.40–16.16 22.80–32.32
Very poor >2.70 >3.24 >4.05 >4.63 >5.50 >6.25 >8.08 >10.80 >16.16 >32.32

has been widely used around the world to evaluate the effects gen- A research study conducted by Cantisani and Loprencipe focused
erated on human beings by vibration exposure. The method was on obtaining correlations between the IRI and awz on 124 rural roads
named a “basic evaluation method using quadratic weighted average profiles collected by the SHRP Long-Term Pavement Performance of
acceleration (awz),” also known as vertical weighted root mean square the Transportation Research Institute at the University of Michigan
(RMS) acceleration (frequency-weighted root mean square accelera- (14). The IRI was initially evaluated according to the standard pro-
tion), and is typically used for assessments in aspects of occupational cedure described by ASTM and calculated from the average of each
health and risk exposure associated with vibration (ISO 2631). pair of profiles, as indicated in Equation 3:
Likewise, statistical correlations between the IRI and awz on rural
roads have been proposed in recent publications (12, 13, 14–16) IRI left + IRI right
IRI = (3)
and have enabled comfort to be evaluated when users travel on a 2
pavement surface (measuring vertical vibrations that result from
acceleration). Additionally, a publication by Zhang and Yang indi- Subsequently, model simulations from the quarter-car model were
cated that RMS-weighted vertical acceleration can be correlated to used to determine the corresponding awz parameter and took into
the comfort perceived by the users of a road network (16). account the accelerations experienced by the front-seat passengers.
Ahlin and Granlund proposed the model defined in Equation 1 to This calculation for acceleration was performed at simulation speeds
determine the maximum comfortable vehicle speed from the value from 30 to 90 km/h in increments of 10 km/h. The authors found R2
of acceptance limits of awz (13): values between .75 and .90 for the correlations between IRI and awz
2 1−n
for the seven speeds considered in the study. On the basis of those
 IRI  results, the authors recommended using awz because the IRI is stan-
CVS = 80  (1)
 5  dardized to a single reference speed (80 km/h) and, as such, could not
accurately capture differences in actual pavement conditions and
where user comfort in different operation conditions.
CVS = comfortable vehicle speed (km/h), Additional research was conducted in the Colombian context by
IRI = international roughness index (mm/m), and the Urban Development Institute in Bogota, Colombia, in 2007. The
n = amplitude parameter for terrain roughness. study included an inventory by a high-performance laser profilometer
of the surface quality of 842 km of pavements in different sectors of
Typically, n ranges between 1.1 and 2.5. High n values are the city. The IRI was measured without affecting the regular traffic
associated with pavements on which the wave amplitudes are long; operating conditions of the city. The results showed excessively high
low n values correspond to short wave amplitudes (for deteriorated IRI values (an average of 7.63 m/km) that were consistent with those
pavement surfaces). of pavements with significant surface irregularities. Figure 1 presents
The calculation of awz—under the ISO 2631 method—comprises the results of the IRI evaluated for the entire network. Figure 1 shows
the following steps and involves vertical accelerations obtained from the distribution of the reported IRI with speed and shows that the
quarter-car simulations:
IRI tends to be higher at lower testing speeds. This behavior is likely
to arise from a combination of two factors: the problems associated
1. The RMS acceleration of the mass of the passenger (a RMS iz ) is
with measuring the IRI at low speed and an increased likelihood for
calculated with regard to the power spectral density for each ith octave
lower-speed roads to have poor ride quality (17, 18).
thirds band.
Another study by La Torre et al. highlighted some issues faced
2. The values of a RMS
iz are multiplied by its weight factor (Wk) for
when measuring the IRI in urban areas. These issues included (a) that
each frequency band.
homogeneous sections are much shorter than those used in the World
3. After these values (aRMS
iz and Wk) are obtained, the RMS can be
Bank study that proposed the IRI classification, (b) that speeds are
determined from the square root of the sum of squares of these values,
considerably lower than the standard 80 km/h value used for the
as shown in Equation 2:
IRI quarter-car model, (c) that the difference in the materials used
in the construction of urban areas from those used in rural areas leads
∑ (W  aizRMS ) to different roughness values, and (d) that the levels of acceptability
awz = k,i (2)
i =1 in urban areas are defined after user perception and environmental
conditions are considered (9). In response to those issues, the authors
where Wk,i is the factor for each frequency band weight. conducted qualitative and qualitative assessments that included IRI
Abudinen, Fuentes, and Carvajal Muñoz 3


Laser Profiler Measurement of IRI (m/km)

IRI = –0.2803 * V + 18.181
16 R 2 = .9378


0 20 40 60 80
Testing Speed (km/h)

FIGURE 1   IRI versus testing speed of the measuring profilers.

measurements in various urban profiles, a rating procedure, and a depressions found at intersections. The pavement roughness is mainly
panel rating study of user perception. defined by the natural topography of the terrain, a typical condition
of urban roads in Colombia.
Figure 5 suggests that the IRI is affected by the testing speed,
Research Objective even when measurements are obtained on the same pavement section.
An analysis of variance was conducted to evaluate whether the IRI
The present investigation aims to highlight the limitations of the values were statistically affected by the testing speed on a specific
calculation and implementation of the IRI on urban roads. Two main pavement section. The analysis, not shown in this paper, indicated
aspects will be considered: that the testing speed affected IRI evaluation (p-value < .001) (19).
Figure 6 shows that IRI values evaluated by the SurPRO were
1. The accurate measurement of the road profile by full-scale consistently lower than those obtained by the laser profiler for all the
profilers; the IRI value is derived from these measurements. evaluated pavement sections. The data shown in Figure 6 suggest
2. The definition of the IRI model and that it was originally defined that as the operating speed of the laser profiler increases, roughness
to evaluate the response of a vehicle traveling at 80 km/h on rural road; levels approach those obtained with the SurPRO. This result high-
this situation differs significantly from the operating conditions of lights the limitations of evaluating roughness conditions on urban
urban roads. roads with a laser profiler, as the profiler cannot always operate at
high speeds because of—among other factors—traffic signs, traffic
On the basis of these limitations, this investigation proposes thresh- lights, and interactions with other vehicles.
olds for the travel quality assessment of urban roads by improving IRI The results presented in the current investigation could be explained
measurements through the use of an awz parameter that accounts for by the limitations of the full-scale laser profilers in measuring a
user perception and allows for a more representative characterization representative pavement profile, given the particular conditions of
of travel quality. urban roads. The vehicle is affected by horizontal deceleration and
acceleration as the vehicle slows down and speeds up in response
to traffic conditions. These effects could produce additional errors
Evaluation of Roughness on the profile evaluation and could be reported as large features
on Urban Roads or singularities that were not actually present on the test site. This
condition is magnified at low testing speeds.
To evaluate the limitations found in the evaluation of roughness con-
ditions on urban roads with full-scale profilers, a survey was con-
ducted in the city of Barranquilla, Colombia. The survey included a Limitations on the Implementation
wide range of surface conditions on more than 80 concrete pavements of the IRI on Urban Roads
sections (Figure 2). Figure 3 presents an illustration of the devices
used. The devices were used to assess road roughness through IRI Different investigations have highlighted various limitations of
determination. Figure 4 presents an example of one of the pavement implementing the IRI model on urban roads (9, 10, 13). La Torre
sections included in this study. In these sections, the surface condition et al. proposed a modified IRI model that used a traveling speed of
was evaluated according to the IRI in the right wheelpath of the right 50 km/h for the quarter-car model on the basis that the riding speed
lane. ProVAL version 3.4, provided by FHWA, was used to analyze in urban areas is considerably lower than the 80 km/h used in the
the profile data from the devices. original IRI model (9). Moreover, in 1997 and 1999, the Fund for the
The high levels of roughness present in the evaluated pavement City of New York evaluated the roughness conditions of streets
section can be observed in Figure 4. Figure 4b shows pronounced throughout the city (20). The city roughness index was proposed for
4 Transportation Research Record 2612

915,000 920,000 925,000

0 1,000 2,000



Road Network, Barranquilla
Primary Roads
Evaluated Pavement Sections

915,000 920,000 925,000

FIGURE 2   Distribution of the pavement sections evaluated in Barranquilla.

(a) (b)

FIGURE 3   Devices used to evaluate pavement roughness: (a) reference SurPRO portable profiler and (b) full-scale profiler.
Processed Profile


Elevation (m)



0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1,000
Distance (m)


FIGURE 4   Details of evaluated road section: (a) pavement profile and (b) pavement intersection.

20 20
Section 2 Section 3

IRI (m/km)

IRI (m/km)

10 10

5 5
20 30 40 50 60 20 30 40 50 60
Testing Speed (km/h) Testing Speed (km/h)
(a) (b)

20 20
Section 8 Section 14

15 15
IRI (m/km)
IRI (m/km)

10 10

5 5
20 30 40 50 60 20 30 40 50 60
Testing Speed (km/h) Testing Speed (km/h)
(c) (d)

FIGURE 5   IRI response to testing speed for specific pavement sections.
6 Transportation Research Record 2612

51 km/h
46 km/h
20 42 km/h
40 km/h
27 km/h

IRI (m/km)
25 km/h

8 9 10 11
Road Section

FIGURE 6   Comparison of SurPRO and profilometer IRI measurements at different speeds.

the evaluation of pavement roughness; the index was mathematically be obtained for a given pavement profile if the quarter-car modeling
identical to the IRI. Roughness data were reported with regard to the speed were varied; this finding illustrates that vehicle dynamics, and
city roughness index to highlight the reality that urban streets did thus user comfort, are highly dependent on vehicle speed.
not operate at the 80 km/h used by the quarter-car model (10, 12). Regardless of the features of a pavement surface, user perception
Reggin et al. showed that the IRI of urban roadway networks could be of the road condition will be conditioned by the traveling speed. The
significantly affected by factors not frequently encountered in rural quarter-car model can be used to evaluate vehicle dynamic response
highways, such as intersections and railway crossings (10). to a given pavement profile. The response of the quarter-car model
Furthermore, user perception of ride quality on urban roads is differ- is mainly determined by the frequency of the external force that
ent from that on rural roads. La Torre et al. showed that users presented depends directly on the traveling speed and the profile unevenness.
higher acceptability levels for road unevenness on urban roads than on The sprung mass of the quarter-car model is used to represent the user.
rural roads (9). La Torre et al. presented accepted IRI values for urban If a different speed is used in the modeling process, a completely
road that were considerably higher than the typical values accepted different behavior is experienced by the user on a given pavement
on rural roads because of urban drivers’ increased tolerance of road profile; this condition is illustrated in Figure 8. Moreover, Figure 8
unevenness. shows that even though a pavement surface reports a unique IRI
Figure 7 evaluates the sensitivity of the IRI model to the quarter- value, users are exposed to a different experience on a given
car modeling speed. Figure 7 shows that different IRI values would profile depending on the traveling speed. This condition could be



Modified IRI (m/km)



0 20 40 60 80 100
Quarter-Car Modeling Speed (km/h)

FIGURE 7   Modified IRI obtained at different quarter-car modeling speeds

(Pavement Section 14).
Abudinen, Fuentes, and Carvajal Muñoz 7

Model Speed = 20 km/h
Vertical Acceleration (m/s2)



0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50
Distance (m)

Model Speed = 40 km/h
Vertical Acceleration (m/s2)



0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50
Distance (m)

Model Speed = 80 km/h

Vertical Acceleration (m/s2)



0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50
Distance (m)

FIGURE 8   Vertical acceleration experienced by the user traveling on Pavement Section 14 at (a) 20, (b) 40, and (c) 80 km/h.
8 Transportation Research Record 2612

used to explain the tolerance to high IRI values reported by urban Figure 9. The thresholds are shown in Figure 10 and Table 2. Fig-
road users. ure 10 illustrates the procedure used to obtain the threshold values
shown in Table 2.
The information in Table 2 and Figure 11 is consistent with
Use of awz Thresholds research by Cantisani and Loprencipe (14) and indicates that rough-
to Assess Travel Quality ness on low-speed roads can be higher because users will perceive less
discomfort as a result of the lower vertical accelerations experienced
Given the need to improve travel quality assessment on urban roads, on the same road when traveling at lower speeds. These limits tend
this research study proposes thresholds for the IRI and makes use of to become more demanding with the increased operating speed of a
awz to determine the accelerations perceived by the users of the road given road. However, the data depicted in Figure 6 could differ from
network being studied. A total of 102 urban profiles constructed the results of Cantisani and Loprencipe if one takes into consideration
with concrete pavement were selected for the collection of rough- that the roads studied (highways) were different from those of this
ness (IRI) data with a SurPRO profiler. As observed in Figure 9a, research study (urban roads) (14).
a correlation was found between IRI measurements (m/km) and the A validation of the thresholds presented in this section of the paper
awz parameter (m/s2) (R2 = .51), both determined for a reference speed was required to confirm consistency with local regulations and stan-
of 80 km/h. Furthermore, Figure 9b depicts the corresponding dards. The information in Table 2 and Figure 10 was used with a refer-
trends for each of the awz evaluated at different simulation speeds. ence speed of 80 km/h to get an IRI value equal to 2.98 m/km, which
These linear trends are within typical ranges for operating speeds in corresponded to a road in bad condition that would probably generate
urban roads (i.e., 30 to 100 km/h). discomfort in its users. This value was contrasted with threshold
Similar research conducted by Cantisani and Loprencipe was values from Portugal and Spain (3.0 m/km), and a clear consistency
taken into account (14), and a set of thresholds was proposed for the in the thresholds proposed in this research was determined. Further-
IRI; these thresholds used the linear regressions previously shown in more, Colombian standards indicate a maximum allowable value


awz 80 km/h (m/s2)

2 4 6 8 10 12 14
IRI 80 km/h (m/km)


0 *I
* IR

30* .2
0. =0


80 a wz– IRI

z– .15 *

aw =0


2 a wz–5

awz–90 = 0.41*IRI
awz (m/s2)

awz–70 = 0.27*IRI
= 0.0
a wz–40
1 0.06 *IR
a wz–30 =

0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16
IRI 80 km/h (m/km)

FIGURE 9   Correlation between IRI and a wz parameter at (a) 80 km/h and
(b) evaluated at different speeds.
Abudinen, Fuentes, and Carvajal Muñoz 9

[2.98; 0.90]

awz–80 = 0.302 * IRI

awz–80 (m/s2)
0.6 [2.09; 0.63]

[1.04; 0.31]

0 1 2 3 4
IRI (m/km)

FIGURE 10   Parameter limits of a wz for the assessment of IRI thresholds.

TABLE 2   Proposed IRI Thresholds for Various Operating Speeds

Proposed Values for IRI (m/km)

Road Operating Slope
Speed (km/h) Very Good Good Regular Bad (equation) R2

100 <0.73 0.73–1.45 1.45–2.07 >2.07 0.43 .49

90 <0.78 0.78–1.55 1.55–2.22 >2.22 0.41 .42
80 <1.04 1.04–2.09 2.09–2.98 >2.98 0.30 .52
70 <1.15 1.15–2.31 2.31–3.29 >3.29 0.27 .41
60 <1.54 1.54–3.09 3.09–4.41 >4.41 0.20 .49
50 <2.05 2.05–4.1 4.1–5.86 >5.86 0.15 .47
40 <3.23 3.23–6.47 6.47–9.24 >9.24 0.10 .52
30 <5.1 5.1–10.19 10.19–14.56 >14.56 0.06 .48
awz parameter limit <0.315 0.315–0.63 0.63–0.90 >0.90
  values (m/s2)




IRI (m/km)

Very Good

30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
Operational Speed (km/h)

FIGURE 11   Thresholds for IRI at different operational speeds.

10 Transportation Research Record 2612

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