Integrated System Keeps Fort Collins ‘Asset Smart’

Fort Collins’ system of integrated asset management is helping that city control costs and program maintenance by combining its varied infrastructure inventories into a single platform. The result will be an integrated pavement, bridge and utility management tool that—among many other things—will overlay sewer condition, water line condition, pavement condition and bridge condition to permit city management to program maintenance and capital projects, and assist it in determining where best to spend the city’s funds.

“The great value of the system is that it gives us a clear understanding of the condition of the entire network, be it bridges, pavements, or eventually, utilities,” said Rick Richter, capital projects manager, Engineering Department, City of Fort Collins.

The fourth largest city in Colorado, Fort Collins has about 580 miles of streets in its inventory. Fort Collins began data collection on its pavement condition in 1989 but started looking for a more advanced PMS in the late 1990s. “We wanted to get software in which we could input our own condition data and develop our own deterioration curves, rather than using some canned process,” Richter said. “We wanted something Windows based that would not require a computer programmer to operate. And we wanted GIS. Geographic information systems were in their infancy in 1997 in Fort Collins, but we felt that would become important in the future.”

The system selected was the dTIMS infrastructure asset management system from Deighton Associates, Ltd., and the city was able to migrate its eight years of pavement condition data into the new system. The new program gave Fort Collins some new capabilities in forecasting pavement maintenance and preservation activities, although at the time roads were the only asset on the system.

“We had a greater ability to determine the process used to predict deterioration of roadways,” Richter said. “Being able to enter our data so the curves and predictions were accurate was a big benefit. The ability to project budgets and perform cost benefit analyses of what treatment to use, when, and how effective it would be, and then project what the pavement condition will be based on various budgets, also was a benefit. We could see what would be needed to maintain a condition, versus what would happen under a constrained budget, and produce both scenarios in graphs and charts. It was a huge leap for us.”

“When you have a streets asset worth $440 million you certainly want to know how to manage that asset,” said Larry Schneider, superintendent, Fort Collins Streets Department. “You want to know which treatments to use at the right time. When we are planning the next year’s program, we want to know what treatments we will use and on which streets.”

Fort Collins staff worked with Deighton to link its existing geographic information system with its dTIMS system, and that has helped coordinate road and bridge improvements with scheduled utility work. “We developed our GIS parallel with the pavement system, but eventually we had to bring them together,” Richter said. “That gave us a tool that really made a difference. Once we integrated the GIS tool it enabled us to develop GIS maps for construction projects. For example, I can look at all the construction projects and ask if they affect a bridge. If the answer is ‘yes’, we can pull up the bridge condition, its last inspection report, and determine that before we do something to the road, we have to do something to the bridge. It makes that whole process a lot simpler.”

Pavements, Bridges & Utilities

It’s common for states to develop integrated asset management systems and have staff assigned to perform pavement and bridge management, but less so for municipalities, said Dan Roberts, Deighton’s U.S. operations manager, based in Denver. “Most of the states have a pavement management engineer supported by a team,” Roberts said. “But at the municipal level, the guy who does pavement management typically will wear a number of different hats. A comprehensive pavement management system is a valuable addition, saving money and helping them work more efficiently.”

To this end, Fort Collins maintains its pavement management system, and has just launched a bridge management system which also runs on dTIMS, so both asset classes are managed on the same platform, within the same system. “They’ve moved pavement management out of their engineering group and into their Street Department,” Roberts said. “I have found that most operations groups don’t like to be dictated-to by engineering. By moving pavement management into streets they have been quicker to adopt the recommendations of the dTIMS program.”

Utilities—including potable, storm and sanitary water infrastructure, and soon, electrical distribution—are in the process of being integrated into Fort Collins’ asset management system. “The benefit of using a system like dTIMS is that it is totally configurable,” Roberts said. “Any kind of pavement treatment, performance curve, and decision tree can be configured by the user.”

“As asphalt technology changed, and PG-rated liquid asphalts came into use, we saw our reflective cracks reduce substantially,” Richter said. “So as the performance of the pavements changed, we were able to go in to dTIMS and adjust our performance curves to reflect the improved performance of the pavements.”

Big Surprise with Bridges

The inclusion of bridges with pavements into the asset management system was an extremely important development for Fort Collins. “When I took over our capital projects and bridge group we brought bridges into the system so we could do the same type of analysis and tracking that we did with pavements,” Richter said. “We had a list of large box culverts and traditional bridges, and we entered all that data into a dTIMS database.

When we popped the information onto a map we saw there were many roads and streets crossing irrigation canals or drainage ditches that had no documented bridge or culvert. Turns out there were a hundred bridges that were not in our inventory!”

These were structures that, for example, were constructed by subdivision developers and never made it into city documents. “These days we live in a data-driven society, and our city council members want to see data graphically, and they want it yesterday,” said Jin Wang, P.E., civil engineer, Engineering Department, City of Fort Collins. “That’s one reason we integrated bridges into the system; the more prepared we are in setting up the presentation of asset condition, the faster we can deliver the information to the decision makers.”

The goal is to get bridge preservation funded by the city council the same way pavement preservation is funded. “You want to apply preventive maintenance on a bridge on the newer bridges,” Wang said. “The deterioration of a bridge element can be catastrophic, and the council wants to know at what point a bridge will fail. We can’t know that but we can tell them the condition. The city council is very used to the presentation of pavement conditions so we want to make a similar presentation for bridges. They also want to see where a bridge is located, and the integration of dTIMS and our GIS is very helpful for that.”

Integrating Utilities

Utilities like storm and waste water which are in the dTIMS system are just now being integrated into the GIS, Richter said. “The city’s eventual goal is have everything on the same platform,” he said. “Then the maps will overlay the sewer condition, water line condition, pavement condition and bridge condition, and then let us determine where best to spend our funds. It also will keep us from paving a street and having it torn up six months later for sewer work. It will be a money saver for the city in the long term.”

“Our utilities in this system are potable water, waste water, storm water and electric light and power,” said Chris Parton, P.E., asset manager, Fort Collins Utilities. “The city owns the distribution lines and we purchase electricity from the Platte River Electric Power Authority, where we are one of four members. They generate power and transmit it to our substation, and from there we distribute it to our customers.” The city also owns water pipelines and waste water is processed by two treatment plants which are city owned and operated.

Currently, the inventory of assets exists in a variety of databases, including Microsoft and Oracle products. Parton is studying the existing three water utilities as to their condition to determine what it will take to get the systems to an acceptable level of risk for each of the systems in which major capital expenditures will not be a surprise.

Ultimately, Fort Collins will benefit from cross-asset optimization and coordination, which will permit the city to establish multiple-year work programs for each of the assets, and allow them to be viewed next to each other, so conflicts can be avoided.

That can include cutting a utility trench in a newly paved street for a water line; if a water line must go in next year, and the program shows the street should be paved the following year, then the paving can be moved up a year and both paving and utility work can be done as one project.

“We will be using the program to generate a street maintenance plan five years out,” Schneider said. “We then can go to all the other departments, all the utilities both inside and outside Fort Collins, and say ‘What will you be doing the next five years?’ We can lay our plan out and they can say ‘We’ve got a water line that’s going to go here’, or ‘We’ve got a gas line that is going to be coming down this road’. That will change what we do in the coming five years.”