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Archive for November 2014

It’s not armageddon…but it could look like it.

Bridges and overpasses collapse. Water and sewer pipes burst. Roads crack and crumble. Buildings become uninhabitable. It’s not Armageddon. It’s not even a natural disaster (though that poses its own risks). It’s the worst-case scenario when aging infrastructure fails, and it leads to serious life safety and health issues. Clearly, failure is not an option. And asset management is the first step towards successful solutions.

It’s funny how we view things differently when working in the world of local government. For most people, I’m guessing they see landscaped boulevards and appreciate the beauty of the trees and flowers. For me, I appreciate the beauty, but I also see the challenges of ongoing maintenance, and I wonder if they have to close lanes to do the work or if they needed to add sprinkling systems to the area. Most people use roads, water and sewer without a thought of the work behind the scenes. I use those services with an appreciation of value for tax dollar. And never again will I buy a house without first checking on the community plan for the area.

It’s a bit of a skewed vision, but it comes from the extra awareness of the complexity and demands of local government operations. In the Fall edition of Exchange, my vision was even more focused than usual as I was hyper aware of asset management and aging infrastructure challenges. My trip to Montreal this summer included shopping and gazing with alarm at multiple overpasses that seemed to be stitched together with patching and metal straps. As we moved along to Winnipeg, I flinched at the extensive damage the winter does to roads and wondered about how the City manages to maintain – let alone replace – an extensive network of roads pitted by potholes.

My vacation became an amateur condition assessment exercise, and my sympathies were with the various communities I visited. It’s tough to grapple with the reality of the challenge to address aging infrastructure, but in Asset Management: From Awareness to Action, we learn from three communities who are taking steps to address the needs in their community. It quickly became evident that even small steps forward are essential and valuable. In Stepping Forward. Stepping Back., we learn that there is progress towards new funding resources, greater awareness of aging infrastructure as a critical risk area, and more collaboration and integration of asset management into regular operations. At the same time, new risks in the area of natural disasters and unfunded liabilities are adding new challenges to the mix. It’s a quagmire for sure.

Recognizing the challenges – and the frustration of being the generation tasked with dealing with such a monumental task – I believe the situation becomes more alarming as we move into election mode. Those who truly understand the funding gap and critical risks of failing infrastructure likely share my shudder when candidates campaign on a “zero tax increase” platform. Even worse are those who say they’ll cut taxes. It shows a blatant lack of understanding of what is truly needed to ensure that the infrastructure we enjoy today is maintained and replaced to provide safe and reliable services. It also tells me the work around communication is not done. There may be growing awareness of the challenges at a Council and staff level, but I look forward to the day when discussion at the local coffee shops is about how we need to look for ways to support financing for replacing infrastructure and build sustainable funding models for all new assets. Maybe I’m tilting at windmills.