Playing nice in the right of way
A Web-based program clues public and private utilities in on each other's plans.
Margaret Martin, PE, thought she'd hit the jackpot when her Baltimore Gas & Electric (BG&E) contact called to tell her about a tool that might help them better coordinate street cuts and repairs.
The BG&E contact and Martin had been struggling to satisfy the requirements of Citistat, the mayor's performance-based initiative to improve service. Winner of Harvard University's 2004 Innovation in Government Award, the program poses a dual challenge: It requires the city DOT to provide biweekly updates on the amount of new pavement it's laid in addition to sharing its progress in monitoring repairs to pavement cuts made by any other entity, public or private.
BG&E and every city department use a different system to track projects, including different mapping programs: ESRI's ArtGIS and GE Energy's Smallworld. As head of the DOT's engineering and construction group, Martin was beginning to despair of standardizing the systems.
“My dream is to have a credible program that the political leadership buys into and can see we're going to take care of them in time,” she says. “So my first question was, ‘is this for real?'”
She's referring to an Internet-based program, hosted by Envista Corp., that requires users to input five pieces of information — a project's start and end dates, its starting and end locations, and contact information — into a program that looks like a standard Web browser. When a utility enters this information, the program color-codes it and overlays it on a map (see above). When users log in, they see all the projects planned by all stakeholders within a geographic area.
“I had four young engineers in the room during the presentation, and afterward all they said was, ‘wow,'” Martin says.
San Francisco has reduced street cuts by 27% using the program, and Providence Water in Rhode Island is using it to replace 25,000 lead pipes over 15 years. Veolia Water North America is also a partner.
There's no start-up fee to use the subscription-based program, which bases its annual fee on population. For example, a city with 6,000 or fewer residents pays $1,000 annually. Working with the railroad
With no case law to indicate potential liability, plan on going above and beyond minimum safety requirements for at-grade crossings.