How to Make the Most of Your Infrastructure: An Insider's No-Fear Approach

In an age where the cost of infrastructure maintenance outweighs many budgets, we must dedicate ourselves to activities that make the best use of our resources. Inventory and assessment are a wise place to start.

Inventory and assessment are the true first step toward improved infrastructure. They lay the foundation for your Asset Management Program (AMP) and are crucial for municipalities and other agencies that want to prepare long-term plans, meet reporting requirements, obtain funding and more.

We all know this. And yet we are tempted to put off these activities. Why? Unfortunately, needless fear. Fear of adopting the wrong inventory approach or reaching the wrong conclusion during the assessment phase. There is also fear of time commitment and cost.

But if we overcome our fears and approach the process practically, we discover that the value of sensible inventory and assessment reaches far beyond the expense. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

In completing inventories for clients, we have considered all types and sizes of infrastructure, and have found that successful inventories have a few things in common. Here are a few tips.

Determine what's feasible

Quantifying every storm drainage structure, bridge, lane mile of roadway, traffic control device or railroad crossing that an entity is responsible for is daunting. A feasible approach toward inventory and assessment will look different in each situation.

Smaller entities may be able to inventory everything. Beginning with a list of your known infrastructure and a list of structure types and elements to look for, you might be able to visit every corner of your jurisdiction and conduct an inventory and assessment within six months.

Other entities may need to conduct this investigation over a longer period of time. And still others might need to use modeling and extrapolation to arrive at a probable inventory. In all cases, the key is to recognize your responsibility to do something, determine what is feasible and practical, and take action to achieve a complete inventory and assessment.

If you make a reasonable effort to quantify what you have, and put in place a system for elements to be added as they are discovered, you will have made a big stride.

Be consistent, not exact

Don’t worry about finding the perfect method or achieving 100% accuracy when it isn’t necessary. Doing this often adds cost without adding commensurate value. Many complicated systems exist to scientifically analyze the exact condition of infrastructure. Service life estimates are an excellent example of this type of analysis. But when the goal is to spend a finite amount of money in the best possible way, knowing exact condition does not help.

The most valuable information is the condition of the given structure or element as compared with others in the jurisdiction. This is where a condition index provides value. It ranks the condition of infrastructure comparatively, and accepts an inherent level of subjectivity while striving for consistent subjectivity.

For example, in assessing the condition of approximately 300 miles of roadway in Archuleta County, Colorado, we used a custom condition index for each type of road encountered (paved, composite, unpaved). We tempered subjectivity by using one inspector, but consistent subjectivity can also be achieved by having each inspector receive the same training. The result in Archuleta County was a data set that allowed us to assess which roads were in the worst condition. This is how you begin to prioritize.

Think beyond inventory and assessment

A practical inventory and assessment is a step to helping you achieve infrastructure improvements, not an end in itself. An incomplete inventory and assessment is perhaps the most useless item to leave sitting on the shelf.

Moreover, approaching inventory and assessment as critical steps on the path to other goals will keep them from becoming time- and money-consuming albatrosses that are either never complete or, once complete, never used.

So set yourself a timeline for completion and stick to it. Seek additional resources to complete this task if necessary. Do what you need to do to maintain momentum, and never forget your end goal.

Bringing it together

As we all know, the first step in striving for improvement is planning. A feasible approach to an inventory and assessment process will go a long way toward helping you develop a viable AMP. Quality does not just happen; improvement is not inevitable. Improvement is created by people who care enough to plan for it — people with a mental picture of how things should be, and the desire to make good things happen.

About the Author

John Simmer

John Simmer is a Vice President and Region Leader with SEH. His experience includes seven years as Director of Public Works for Pueblo County, Colorado. There, John established an inventory and condition assessment of all infrastructure assets. He also developed numerous subsystems, including request for service, work order and project cost accounting systems. All of the foregoing are integral parts of a viable asset management system. Contact John

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