The average is 4% of visible infrastructure is in poor condition.  Actually 4-6% depending on the municipality.  And this was visible infrastructure, not buried, but there is not particular reason to believe the below ground infrastructure is somehow far worse off.  Or better.   That 4-6% is infrastructure that needs to be fixed immediately, which means that as system  deteriorate, there is catch –up to do.  The good news is many of the visible problems were broken meter boxes, damaged valve boxes, broken curbs and broken cleanouts- minor appearing issues, but ones that likely require more ongoing maintenance that a water main.  And the appearance may be somewhat symptomatic – people perceive that the system is rundown, unreliable or poorly maintained when they see these problems.  It raises a “Tipping Point” type discussion.  “Tipping Points” Is a book written by Malcolm Gladwell that I read last year (great book – my wife found it in a book exchange for free in Estes Park last summer).  It was along a similar vein of thought as the Freakanomics books – the consequences of certain situations may be less clear than one thinks.  The Tipping point that is most relevant is crime in New York in the early 1990s after Bernard Goetz shot several assailants in the subway.  The problem was significant and the subways were thought to be among the higher risk areas.  The new police chief and Mayor decided that rather that ignore the petty crimes (like many large cities do), they would pursue those vigorously.  So fare hopping on the train and the like were challenged immediately.  They decided that no graffiti would be visible on the subways and cleaned cars every night to insure this remained the case.  Cars with graffiti were immediately removed from service.  New subway cars were ordered.  Pride and public confidence improved.  Crime dropped.  The impact of their efforts was that people recognized that criminal behavior would not be tolerated and fairly quickly criminal activity decreased.  It was a big success story, but the underlying reasons were less discussed, but easily transferrable to our infrastructure.  If we have broken valve boxes, meters, cleanouts, storm drains etc., the same perceptions of a rundown community rise.  Rundown communities lead to a loss of public confidence and trust and pride.   And none of those help our mission or our efforts to increase infrastructure spending.  4% might not look like much, but it can drastically change the perception of the community.  So let’s start to fix those easy things; and document that we did in our asset management programs.



You asked for more figures – so here you  go   Very cool stuff.  All done by students.

Capture2FAU 3D 23D FAU

How many utilities have a 3D map of their infrastructure?  Not many I bet.  But FAU does.  Here is a recently completed project we did with students and the Facilities Maintenance staff at FAU (costs involved).  They needed better mapping and will tie this to their work order system.  It was an excellent opportunity for two groups within one organization that otherwise seem to have little in common wot work toward a great project.  We will be inputting this data into an online asset management system this summer along with some data for Dania Beach so they will have a portion of their utility system in 3D also.  This is part of a tiny project we did for their downtown area.

GIS is a powerful tool and one utilities should embrace wholeheartedly.  There is so much more than mapping to do.  Data gathering in critical, but with Leica and Trimble units, a lot of data can be gathered easily.  LiDAR can be expensive, but the value is tremendous.  You can see that the FAU system is laid on a 3D LiDAR topographic map (6 in vertical accuracy).  Asset condition assessments were also done concurrently, which adds a lot of information to the system (all assets were also photographed and linked).  Drawing files can be downloaded and extruded from 2D to 3D. Engineers know GIS or can learn it, which makes a fully expanded GIS system for the utility easy to derive if the time is spent.  This is a valuable tool when linked to work orders and asset management programs.

So is your utility in 3D?  Capture


Public infrastructure has been poorly rated by the American Society of Civil Engineers and most public officials acknowledge the deterioration of the infrastructure we rely on daily.  However, many jurisdictions have limited information about their systems, and little data to use to justify spending.  The resistance to impose fees or taxes to upgrade infrastructure also remains high.  Hence the infrastructure tends to deteriorate further each year.  At present the United States spends about 1.6% of its GNP of infrastructure, as compared to 3.1 % prior to 1980.  Half as much money, and a large portion of that was for growth as opposed to repair and replacement.  Hence the need for better tools for asset management.

Utilities that utilize asset management programs experience prolonged asset life by aiding in rehabilitation and repair decisions while meeting customer demands, service expectation and regulatory requirements. The general framework of asset management programs involves collecting and organizing the physical components of a system and evaluating the condition of these components. The importance and the potential consequences associated with the failure of the individual assets are determined by this evaluation. Managers and operators can then prioritize which infrastructure are most critical to the operation of the system and furthermore which infrastructure to consider for repair, rehabilitation or replacement. It is a continuously reviewed and revised strategy that implements the acquisition, use and disposal of assets to optimize service and minimize costs over the life of the assets. An asset management plan (AMP) considers financial, economic and engineering goals in an effort to balance risk and benefits as they relate to potential improvement to the overall operation of the system.

Over the last 2 years, we have been working to develop a means to quickly, effectively and in a cost efficient manner to collect data and assess public infrastructure using simple, readily available means, without the need for significant training and expertise.  The idea was to use student efforts to coalesce a common evaluation without the need for destructive testing.  There are three successive projects used to improve the collection of data for ultimate use in an asset management program.   Students were provided with Leica and Trimble units to gather data.  For the first project, an app was created by FAU students that included photographic tools and entries to document the asset condition and location and permit offsite QA/QC from the cloud.  This app was initially developed for stormwater, but was updated to include all public assets for the second community. Data retrieval was created to be able to log data directly onto a smart phone or tablet in the field to save time and the information is instantly downloaded to the internet for quality assurance. The collection system also was programmed with a condition index to help with organization A session was held in the field with student groups to normalize the assessment process.  The approach began with an inventory and location of each asset. The assets were field inspected and assessed for condition.  A numbering system and photographic tools was used to document the asset condition.  This was accomplished by physically locating each asset in the field and marking it with a global position system (GPS) coordinate which allowed the data to be populated in a geographic information system (GIS) and organized with the other assets of the system

The results include this senior design project by our geomatics students. It is a 3-dimensional map of all infrastructure from the ground down on FAU’s Boca Raton campus. 800 acres and over 5000 points, many of which must be stitched together.  They also created building extrusions for a future project.  Very cool and useful from a tablet.  So the question is – do you have a 3D map of your utility?

Geomatics Engineering Senior Design Project 2016 (2)

I had to share this, from a nonscientific survey of people adamantly opposed to any consideration of changes to our climate:

1. I can’t do anything about it so I don’t care about it
2. People can’t alter what is happening with the earth because it is too big
3. It’s natural, so we can’t do anything about it
4. It’s not an issue now, so it’s somebody else’s future problem
5. The science is inconclusive so why do anything yet. Let’s see what happens
6. Trying to address it will cut jobs
7. We won’t be competitive (i.e our profits will drop)
8. It requires changing our business model (energy)
9. If we talk about it no one will develop in our community
10. Costs too much

I had to post this as many of you will have comments. But before you do, these about this a minute……

The first five are based on no facts, but a desire to ignore the issue entirely. The second five are more poignant because aren’t these pretty much the same arguments to deny the need to correct water pollution concerns in the 1930s? Or 1950s? Or even 1970s? Or even today with hog farms, frack water, acid mine waste, coal dust slurries, etc.? Or actually pretty much every regulation? I seem to recall Tom Delay making this argument when he was in Congress before he was indicted.

Now think about the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and others. These regulations are designed to correct ills of the past that were simply ignored due to the first five arguments above, ignoring the fact that prevention is always less costly than cleanup afterward. To we pass regulations to clean up problems and protect the public health going forward. Otherwise why have a regulation?

So let’s talk about that jobs impact. The reason is that after the passage of these regulations, didn’t the number of professional jobs (like civil and environmental engineers, environmental and other scientists – STEM jobs) increase? Isn’t increasing STEM jobs a priority? So won’t dealing with climate issue perhaps create a similar increase in STEM jobs? Yes, costs for water increased and the cost for the effects of climate changes will cost money, but don’t these challenges create opportunities? Isn’t this akin to dealing with problems with development from the past? Just asking…..

At a recent conference I was listening to a presentation by the Army Corps of Engineers explaining the investments made over the last 80 years.  Subsequent presentations discussed that the need to reinvest in infrastructure appears to be about 3.6% of infrastructure value per year, but that the US is spending about 2.4%.  The best condition of our infrastructure was in the 1980s, but decreases in reinvestment due to funding limitations has caused an ongoing decline in infrastructure value, which is why the ASCE report cards show most of our infrastructure at the D or D- level.  It is getting old and it needs repair and replacement.  You would rarely buy a house, never maintain it, and expect it to live in it without problems for 50 years.  Roofs leak, pipes need replacing, mechanical equipment, lights and appliances fail.  It is the cost of owning a home. You have to update.  Most times the new equipment is more efficient that the old stuff, saving money.  So why do we do this with infrastructure?

More interesting was the response to how some of these agencies may deal with this backlog of deferred maintenance.  So far I have heard the Corps, state transportation agencies, state land agencies and another federal government say that they are figuring out means to prioritize the assets and dispose of those not needed.  So let’s see how that would work and I kid you not, these are suggestions:

  •          Abandon state roadways and let local governments deal with them.  Of course these are roads that are challenged – like they flood constantly and the cost to raise them is cost prohibitive, but the city has development along the corridor
  •          The state has low value wetlands they will donate to the underlying county – not that you can do anything with this land- it is not developable, but needs to be monitored and maintained
  •          There is a waterway that has leaking dikes but serves very few people.  Let’s give it to the local community as they are the only ones who use it.
  •          We have monitoring equipment, but it really provides more information locally that regionally, so let’s give it to them 

Hey I like the idea of giving, but seriously, how does the “recipient” deal with this problem.  The low value assets are low value because they serve limited people and are deemed to have little economic or useful value or are too expensive to maintain.  So what does the recipient do with it?  They do not have nearly the resources that larger governmental entities have, and if the big guys cannot find the money, will locals?  Are we just kicking the problem to the next guy?  Sounds like used car sales to me.

It sounds suspiciously like the argument I have heard several times from a city manager who talked about cutting the size of local government, only what he did was contract with other entities to do the services, which means cuts in employees for his city, but the cost is just transferred to another entity.  The rate/taxpayers will foot the bill unless the service is completely discontinued.  In his case, they all paid more.

The State of Florida and the federal government have both cut employees and both contract heavily for services that never used to be contracted.  There is a whole industry of contracting for government work that used to be done in-house.  In other words, they privatized portions of the operations.  But did the cost of government decrease in either case?  No. 

So going back to the initial question – will governments abandon infrastructure?  The answer appears to be yes, but the problem is that that infrastructure IS being used by people so the reality of full abandonment is impossible.  The result will be that underlying local entities will be stuck with the bill.  Planning is needed.  “Fail to plan = Plan to fail” as my friend Albert says.  We need to identify where these “gifts” may occur and identify a means to deal with the inherent obligation that goes with them.  For water and sewer utilities, waterways and roadways are of particular concern, but so could watersheds and well sites. 


I read a recent article in Roads and Bridges on the reconstruction of the roadways to Estes Park.  An excellent effort by state officials and private contractors to rebuild over 20 miles of roads that were wiped away in mid-September when unprecedented rainstorms cut Estes Park off from the front range.  I actually had reservations in Estes Park as part of a plan to go hiking at Lawn Lake, among others.  Lawn Lake was one the harder hit areas in the park.  Went to Leadville.  If you have never been, go.  The early money in Colorado came out of Leadville – silver was the money-maker.   I did a 12 mile hike thought the mining district as it snowed – note it is the 2 mile high City.  Great hike in the am – the photos were fantastic as well.  

But the point is that people expect government to solve problems like the roadways in Colorado.  They expect we will solve water, sewer and storm water problems.  We have done a great job of it because people take these services for granted.  What we don’t want is to have a catastrophic failure, natural or otherwise.. ..

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