Rate Optimism From Municipalities

By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2014, Vol. 69 No. 2

February is always a landmark issue of Underground Construction. We always print plenty of extra copies, yet we always run out. We’re bombarded by requests as to when the issue will be posted online and/or can they get a PDF of a particular article.

That article is the annual Municipal Survey, unique to this industry for several reasons. It is typically the only detailed research study concentrating on just the underground sewer, water and storm water piping infrastructure systems. We don’t include information on residuals, biosolids management, TMDLs, climate change, membrane technology, nutrient removal and microconstituents – those areas of concentration dominate the Water Environment Federation and the American Water Works Association and that’s best left to them. We focus on what we do – and understand – best: the installation, replacement and rehabilitation of underground pipes.

The Muni Survey is utilized as a benchmark by numerous state and Federal agencies as well as world-wide consultants and market research analysts. And that’s great. But the real value, for those willing to read and comprehend with an open mind, are the perspectives being provided by sewer and water project owners across the United States. For smart contractors, vendors and consulting engineers, this is valuable data that should be processed and reacted to in a positive manner for those wanting to push their business to another level and better serve their industry.

This year’s survey offered standard data sprinkled with a few surprises. For example, ultra-violet cured-in-place pipe didn’t register well in some of the benchmarks, including use or experience with the product. But that’s understandable as the product is still fairly new to the market. UV CIPP started out with gusto but has faded since. While interest levels are high, confidence levels remain low until more market penetration and experience is gained.

One surprise was the sharp drop in confidence levels that cities have with their consulting engineer and contractor partners. That should send out an immediate warning for those in these professions. The Great Recession brought money shortages unseen for decades among cities and a perception developed that their partners were shaving corners and sacrificing quality when the money was tight. Of course, it’s hard to blame contractors and consultants who were struggling to survive. But the unfortunate perception of job performance – right or wrong – is something that all should strive to immediately address.