Baby Steps: 14th Annual Municipal Survey

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2011, Vol. 66 No. 2

And while cities have been steadily turning to rate increases as a necessary evil to maintain services, municipalities still are averaging three years between user fee rate hikes. About 8.4 percent of cities have not raised rates in over 10 years.

Asked what are the major concerns affecting sewer and water departments, funding topped the list, being cited by 82.4 percent of all respondents, followed by government/EPA regulations at 61.1%.

Trenchless dynamics
While trenchless applications for construction and rehabilitation have steadily gained favor over the past 20 years, 2010 did see a bit of a slow-down in the use of some methods. With tight budgets, there was some reversion to conventional construction techniques. There remains the perception that open-cut is the ‘safe choice’ – risks are well-documented and thus controlled along with generally being more economical. Some cities were willing to deal with disgruntled citizens and torn-up streets if the jobs could be performed more economically.

Another interesting point made by survey respondents was that as wide-spread as trenchless construction/rehab has become, many methods are still not commonly available for smaller cities, largely due to logistics. As one respondent from an Alabama city pointed out: “Even small towns have someone readily available with a backhoe-loader when we have a problem. But it’s impossible for us to get a contractor that can pipeburst or use CIPP without charging us exorbitant travel and staging costs.”
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Another city official in Rhode Island explained that “we have a very small budget and the boring company is 100-miles distant.” An Alaska municipal respondent added “remote location equals high mobilization costs. Most of our candidate jobs are relatively small.”

Still, trenchless construction/rehab remains a vital, growing part of sewer and water infrastructure work and is generally viewed as just as effective as open-cut solutions. There are still mixed views regarding the economy of trenchless vs. conventional construction methods.

“Trenchless is less costly,” said this respondent from Maine. On the other hand, this Ohio city representative emphasized “we’d like to use trenchless more often but it is not as cost-effective as open-cut.”