Taking stock

Lawrence Bombara, Superintendent of public works, Uxbridge, Mass.

Money's tight for cities, even in relatively small towns like Uxbridge, which has 12,600 residents. Already plagued by infrastructure funding shortfalls, the municipality was besieged by a 10-alarm fire that destroyed 65 businesses in late July.

What kept a surprise such as the big blaze from becoming a crisis was planning and leadership on the part of people like Bombara. The superintendent of public works established a 40-year “rolling stock” replacement program, which helps prioritize equipment purchases and replacement across the town's various departments. “It keeps everyone on the same page and awaiting their turn,” says Bombara.

Among Bombara's other accomplishments in his three-decade tour of duty: installing a new state-of-the-art water tank (on time and under budget), securing a $250,000 grant to establish a bike/walking trail, and transforming a former sewage-sludge landfill into a recycling center. He makes the most of his department's resources by keeping an eye on the bottom line, and by focusing on maintenance rather than replacement.

“Upgrading and improving is one thing, but letting good things deteriorate before your eyes is bothersome,” he says.

Keeping it Cool

Bret Hodne, Superintendent of public works, West Des Moines, Iowa

Preparing for disaster is important, but that doesn't mean it can't be fun.

Hodne has worked in close partnership with other public works leaders in his area—such as Iowa Local Technical Assistance Program associate director Duane Smith—to develop comprehensive training programs for employees involved in snow and ice control. The group and local APWA chapter have worked together to create the Iowa Streets and Roads Conference, the Iowa Maintenance Expo, and a “Roadeo,” at which operators take control of loaders and other winter-fighting equipment to show off their skills.

“It's rewarding to see the results of these efforts, and the difference it has made for the hundreds of agency members who've participated,” says Hodne.

In addition to training, Hodne has helped beef up his agency's severe-weather preparedness by crafting far-reaching disaster plans.

“Having effective plans for both public relations and operations during emergency events is key to keeping your head above water,” he says.

Laying it all out

H. Reed Fowler Jr., Director of public works, Newport News, Va.

When GASB34 first arrived on the scene, Fowler—like nearly every other infrastructure manager in the country—was concerned about his city's lack of preparation.

“Records, reports, maps, and capital project information were maintained by a variety of departments in various formats,” he says. He challenged the city's Asset Management Division to find an effective way to address GASB34 reporting requirements, while also tracking complaints, infrastructure condition ratings, and other pertinent data (using a geographical information system) for all city departments. Under his direction, the city now has a fully functional geodatabase that makes it possible to access data for reporting and analysis.

With Fowler leading the charge, the city also is tackling the problem of attracting and retaining qualified employees head on with the Hampton Roads Public Works Academy. The “school” works to promote cooperative, comprehensive education and training of public works staff in Newport News and surrounding communities. The academy has offered classes in construction and building trade basics, stormwater management, and construction inspecting.

Flying high

Gary Warren, PE, Director of airside development, Metropolitan Airports Commission, Minneapolis, Minn.

Safety is a primary concern for airport managers like Warren.

“There's hardly a project that doesn't have an associated safety benefit,” he says. “This ranges from the higher-precision guidance systems for aircraft, to new runways and other projects that provide more capacity, thus relieving congestion.”

Funding the projects is another matter, but Warren is aggressive. When the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport wanted to install an enhanced approach lighting system and navigation aids on three runways, he paid for one-third of the project's cost through the Federal Aviation Administration's Cost Share Pilot Program.

Also, Warren worked to obtain all the permits needed to widen a portion of the river in front of Holman Field, a smaller airport in downtown St. Paul. The result: His agency will be able to construct a much-needed floodwall around the airport this fall.

Moving and growing

John Bernal, PE, Deputy county administrator of public works, Pima County, Ariz.

Rapid community growth and expanding demand for infrastructure services aren't unique challenges. What is unique is the creative, collaborative approach Pima County, Ariz., managers use to develop and implement solutions.

The county's public works leaders united with five neighboring municipalities and two Native American communities to pool brain power and resources in land use and planning. Bernal was instrumental in establishing a Regional Transportation Authority to meet the collective needs of the burgeoning population. Among the group's accomplishments: laying out a comprehensive 20-year program and securing $2.1 billion to fund highway and transit improvements.

Another goal Bernal shares with his colleagues is ensuring educational infrastructure isn't underserved. The mission of the Metropolitan Education Ad Hoc Committee on Infrastructure Near School Sites is making sure current and future school sites are suited for economical construction, and that they receive proper funding and regulatory review.

“With limited financial resources for educational opportunities, wise application of available funds for construction of new schools is a priority,” says Bernal.

Sharing the burden

Frank “Cheech” DeCelles, Public works director, Plantation, Fla.

DeCelles takes the philosophy of “doing more with less” to heart. To ensure his department gets the most out of its most valuable resource—namely, its people—he established an extensive cross-training program that makes each employee capable of wearing many hats.

“Each employee shares his or her knowledge, experience, and training with at least three other employees outside of their division,” he says. “An example would be an irrigation technician working as a carpenter's helper during the rainy season.”

Trees and sidewalks are another area of accomplishment. DeCelles established the Sidewalk Division, whose attentive maintenance of the nearly 500 miles of sidewalk has helped reduce liability issues. In addition, his crews maintain 17,000 trees, including an average of 300 new plantings each year.

Building morale

Stuart Moring, PE, Director of public works, Roswell, Ga.

When Roswell's transportation director left in April 2006, Moring was asked to take over the position, in addition to his regular duties as director of public works. Growth in Roswell and other cities in the region had led to loss of several key staff, and eroding morale.

To reverse the downslide, Moring worked to keep staff informed, involve them in strategic planning, and applaud them for above-and-beyond efforts.

“With patience and diligence, I was able to hire some exceptional employees to supplement the excellent staff we already had,” he says. “The departments are now functioning very well, and the Transportation Department has the finest management team ever.”

Other departments and municipalities frequently turn to Moring for guidance. For example, he's been asked to help out with designing a major sewer expansion in Albany, Ga., as well as managing the merger of two large water distribution systems in Kentucky.

“As I've moved from technical to managerial work, I've recognized the importance of selecting and developing quality staff,” he says. “My greatest accomplishment has been surrounding myself with bright, hard-working people.”

Home sweet home

William Pugh, Public works director. Tacoma, Wash.

Tacoma's downtown core and supporting infrastructure needed some serious sprucing up.

Pugh was instrumental in bringing to life the Urban Village Local Improvement District, an 11-block area that represents more than $300 million in private-development construction, and transforming the Thea Foss Waterway area from blight to brilliance.

To accomplish this, Pugh worked to acquire 27 acres of brownfields along the waterway's west side. Today, the property consists of retail and residential spaces, a pedestrian bridge connecting to downtown, and glass art by the renowned Dale Chihuly. The city's success in using public-private partnerships to make the projects possible has drawn the attention of leaders in neighboring cities, as well as praise from constituents.

“Our citizens and leaders understand and embrace the broader definition of ‘environment'—what makes someone call a place home, how it includes people, businesses, culture, and history, as well as our natural systems,” he says.

Rolling along

Joseph Johnson, PE, Director of public works, Leawood, Kans.

Without a healthy fleet, any public works department will be brought to a screeching halt.

Johnson realized this when he implemented a program in Leawood's Fleet Maintenance Division that developed a vehicle replacement policy and list for all city vehicles. By meeting once a year to review the fleet program for each department and discuss anticipated needs, price changes, and other concerns, Johnson, his department's fleet manager, and other city managers keep costs manageable and avoid surprises.

“We forecast costs five to six years out, which helps maintain a somewhat level annual expense,” he says. “This also allows the city to get the most effective service life out of vehicles before replacement.”

When discussing his success in effectively managing fleet costs, NPDES compliance, and other achievements, Johnson credits his staff.

“I have the honor of working with some of the best people in the field,” he says. “Their work and dedication have provided me with many opportunities to get involved with these varying projects and programs.”

Calling for backup

Peter Steblin, PE, City engineer, London, Ontario.

London's sewer system had been crumbling for decades. While constituents and elected officials recognized the need to upgrade the infrastructure, getting the necessary funding would require significant rate increases. Steblin and his team successfully lobbied to make it happen.

“We've obtained political approval for increases in the order of 30% over the last three years, providing the funding necessary to move forward on numerous projects,” says Steblin. “These projects have dramatically reduced flooding, increased the rate of our lifecycle replacement strategies, and moved construction of a new membrane filtration treatment system forward.”

Steblin also helped develop a consortium of 14 municipalities and other area agencies to improve water and waste-water infrastructure throughout the region. The group's efforts to gain support from constituents and elected officials has resulted in the approval of a $300 million proposal to fund various water-quality improvement plans.