Underground Construction’s 13th Annual Municipal Infrastructure Survey: Signs Of Life in Sewer/Water Economy

Stimulus Offers Small Aid; Slow Turnaround As Year Progresses
By Robert Carpenter, Editor | February 2010 Vol. 65 No. 2

Asset management
Over the past few years, asset management has been a key buzz term of the underground infrastructure industry. But with money woes, enforcement concerns, user fee issues, etc., interest in asset management substantially ebbed in 2009 and that trend is projected to continue in 2010. Almost 57 percent of the cities responding do not have an underground asset management plan in place. When asked if an asset plan will be incorporated into operations in the near future, 32.3 percent say yes, 20 percent no and 47.6 percent don’t know. “Quite frankly,” said this Mid-Atlantic official, “as important as asset management could be for us, it is low on our list of priorities right now.”

Contractors
A positive note for contractors is that their performance rating, according to survey respondents, reached an all-time high in 2009 of 3.87 on a five-point scale, up from 3.71 in 2008. “We’ve had excellent relationships with our contractors,” said a Pacific Northwest muni official. “Of course, the cynical side of me says contractors are trying harder because the work is scarcer. We had about double the amount of contractors bidding for what work we let this year.”

Whatever the reasons, municipal personnel seemed genuinely pleased with contractor relations. That’s not to say they didn’t have several suggestions when asked how contractors can do a better job.

“Even though we are experiencing tough economic times, don't bid jobs that you aren't capable of doing,” advised this Southwest respondent. “I understand that it is tempting to bid all jobs but refrain from bidding jobs that might take more experience to complete.”

As indicated earlier, damage prevention and safety are becoming more of a concern for municipalities. This muni manager from California said simply “Locate, locate, locate, dig!” A Southwest respondent said contractors need “more owner contact and spotting time exposing other utilities before excavating. Also, more experience for excavator operators is needed.” A western Mountain state official cautioned that contractors should “become more efficient and improve safety adherence.” And another respondent from the Southwest stated the need for “more advance exploration such as potholing.”