A research team of civil engineers at Concordia University in Montreal has developed a framework for managing municipal infrastructure.
Using it, they say, could save municipal governments a lot of money and in the process take a bite out of Canada’s infrastructure deficit.
The key to less costly repairs depends upon better co-ordination at city hall.
The team’s findings were recently published in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management.
The team was made up of Amin Hammad and Tarek Zayed, both professors, and Soliman Abu-Samra and Mahmoud Ahmed, both doctoral candidates and graduate research assistants.
Having better co-ordination of infrastructure may sound like common sense, Abu-Samra said, “but proactive co-ordination between different city departments can be difficult.
“They tend to work in silos, with plans and annual reports created independently.”
He said the national infrastructure deficit was estimated at $123 billion in 2007 and is increasing by about $2 billion annually. That’s why it’s important to make more efficient use of municipal budgets in order to enhance the level of service delivery to taxpayers.
To prove the point, the team created an asset management framework with a number of objectives. It takes into consideration the physical state of existing infrastructure, life cycle costs, user expenses and the replacement value. It uses three core models: a database model containing a detailed asset inventory for road and water networks, a computational model for measuring the impact of intervention plans and an algorithm that optimizes scheduling.
The cost of inaction in the infrastructure world could reach tens of trillions of dollars
— Soliman Abu-Samra
The algorithm is perhaps the most important factor. Abu-Samra said it “simulates thousands of scenarios to reach an optimal one.”
The Concordia team then applied its system to road and water networks in Kelowna, B.C. with results showing life cycle costs could be cut by 33 per cent and user costs could be cut in half. The test also showed there is a potential to include sewer, electricity, gas and telecom networks, provided information can be shared.
In the introduction to its published paper, the team notes the federal government recently showed that a $1 billion investment in infrastructure creates 16,700 jobs and boosts gross domestic product by $1.6 billion.
“Not only does infrastructure enhance the efficiency of production, transportation and communication, it also helps provide economic incentives to public sector and private sector participants,” it reads.
But underperforming infrastructure, the paper says, hampers the day-to-day operation of municipal services and imposes financial burdens.
In 2016, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimated one third of Canada’s municipal infrastructure was in fair or poor condition, or actually failing.
Population growth is making the problem worse. Canada had 17.9 million inhabitants in 1960. That grew to 35.1 million in 2013 and is expected to grow to 42.5 million by 2056, according to Statistics Canada.
In the face of that growth, the level of service delivered by aging infrastructure has decreased.
The questions at the heart of the research are questions often asked by taxpayers. Why repair a road today if it’s to be ripped up for new sewers next summer?
That’s why the team decided at the outset that its work should have four key objectives:
- establish the key selection criteria for infrastructure assets within a defined corridor;
- build an integrated asset management system for roads and water networks;
- develop a way of comparing the benefits of an integrated asset management approach to a more conventional approach; and
- optimize the selection of intervention plans for both conventional and integrated asset management systems.
Having achieved that, the team says it is now possible to assess more accurately the impact of the decisions about co-ordination of work and compare them with more conventional asset management systems. This is especially important, the paper notes, in urban areas that have a number of infrastructure systems within the right-of-way.
Abu-Samra recently gave a TED talk in which he spoke about the state of North American infrastructure and the challenges faced by governments, including growing deficits and the need to enhance the infrastructure level of service.
He concluded with a warning.
“The cost of inaction in the infrastructure world,” he said, “could reach tens of trillions of dollars.”
The paper the research team published is titled Multi-objective Framework for Managing Municipal Integrated Infrastructure. Municipal engineers, or others who may be interested, can purchase a copy of the paper at http://bit.ly/2p37HZH.