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ARCHIVED  June 4, 1999

Region, nation both face infrastructure challenges infra!= structure

In 1998, the American Society of Civil Engineers released their Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. The report card gave the country’s infrastructure of transportation, water and wastewater systems an average grade of “D” — not too good. ASCE outlined $1.3 trillion in critical infrastructure needs — yes, that’s trillion with a “T.”

The infrastructure of many Colorado cities and towns is included in that poor grade. Population growth, or lack thereof, can create infrastructure problems for many local communities. For example, in some growing areas, the construction of new streets and utilities can put a strain on the existing infrastructure. Older water and sewer lines may not have the capacity or useful life remaining to support the new systems. Existing streets may not be wide enough or durable enough for the increased traffic.

In other communities, just the opposite problem may occur. For example, in some rural communities, there may be little, if any, growth. In these situations, there may not be a sufficient tax base to maintain, let alone improve, the existing infrastructure.

Many small communities have a staff of only one or two public-works employees. These employees often wear multiple hats and cannot possibly track and take care of a slowly deteriorating infrastructure.

Regardless of the cause of the problem, whether it’s population growth, small engineering staffs or a lack of tax money, solutions exist.

One of the best things a small city or town can do is to actively manage their infrastructure. Implementing a management system will enable a city or town to better track when parts of an infrastructure should be repaired or given special attention. For example, roads and streets in Colorado suffer significant deterioration due to the unique climate (cold, wet winters followed by hot, dry summers). These elements, coupled with increased traffic, can cause frequent cracking and overall deterioration of the pavement.

A pavement management system such as the Micro-Paver system (developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) can assist a community in determining the most cost-effective way to spend limited maintenance dollars. The Paver program can help a public-works staff by providing an evaluation of the existing pavement condition, estimating the dollars needed to maintain and upgrade a pavement and predicting the amount of cost-effective time needed to implement the maintenance.

For example, a pavement that is at 75 percent of its life can usually be rehabilitated at a relatively low cost. But if a pavement is left for another 12 percent of its life, then the cost for rehabilitation will be four to five times greater. For a pavement with a typical 20-year design life, the critical age is about 15 years. If the critical age is missed by just two or three years, the cost for repairs increases significantly.

Communities such as Frisco, Dillon, Evans and Mount Crested Butte are already implementing this pavement-management system.

Water and sewer lines can be similarly managed. Engineers often design a utility for a life of 40 years. When I was a young design engineer, 40 years seemed like forever. Now, with more than 26 years in the field, 40 years doesn’t seem so long anymore.

When I started my career, we still designed vitrified clay sewers. What we now know is that vitrified clay lasts forever, but the joints were not very tight, thus allowing tree roots to penetrate and cause leakage and breakage. Fortunately, technology has provided us with solutions to these problems as well. We can now repair sanitary sewers in-place by using trenchless technologies.

Having worked on the rehabilitation of utilities that were about 40 years old, I realize that it would be nice to get an even longer life from our designs. Fortunately, some of the trenchless technologies are making sanitary sewer repairs that are cost-effective and should have a very long life.

If a community does not have the staff or expertise to address infrastructure concerns, many private engineering firms offer timely and cost-effective services, and some from metro Denver have recently opened offices in Northern Colorado.

The American Public Works Association is one organization that can help municipalities struggling with their infrastructure. The Colorado Chapter of APWA is actively helping to make public works better for all. APWA provides training through seminars, workshops, and conferences on topics such as pavement maintenance, snow removal, and buildings and grounds management.

Colorado is fortunate to be hosting APWA’s annual Congress in Denver this fall. Public-works officials are encouraged to attend in order to learn more about the latest engineering technology for infrastructure and public works. The annual Congress will bring together thousands of public-works officials. Attendees will be able to meet their counterparts and discuss similar problems, challenges and, yes, maybe even some solutions.

For information about the APWA Congress, contact Ted Borstad, (970) 266-1900.

Ted Borstad, P.E., manages the Fort Collins office of S.A. Miro, Inc., a consulting engineering firm that was established in Colorado in 1980. S.A. Miro, Inc. specializes in civil, structural and analytical engineering. Borstad was president of the Colorado Chapter of APWA in 1992.

In 1998, the American Society of Civil Engineers released their Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. The report card gave the country’s infrastructure of transportation, water and wastewater systems an average grade of “D” — not too good. ASCE outlined $1.3 trillion in critical infrastructure needs — yes, that’s trillion with a “T.”

The infrastructure of many Colorado cities and towns is included in that poor grade. Population growth, or lack thereof, can create infrastructure problems for many local communities. For example, in some growing areas, the construction of new streets and utilities can put a strain on the existing infrastructure.…

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