Alcoa public works employees have cut the time it takes to assess the city’s roads each year from months to just seven weeks by “thinking outside the box.”
Previously the city used MicroPAVER, developed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1970s, for its pavement management program, explained GIS Coordinator Jesús Ortega-Valenzuela.
“It was kind of cumbersome, almost DOS (disc operating system) based,” said Senior Civil Engineer Shane Snoderly.
To use MicroPAVER, city staff would have to inspect 2,500-square-foot sample sections of road each year and rate them as low, medium or high using the Pavement Condition Index (PCI), a grading system created by the Corps of Engineers.
One of the problems, Ortega-Valenzuela said, was determining exactly where those sections of road started and stopped. Employees would have to use a handheld GPS to pinpoint where to start the rating.
Old system ‘time-consuming’
“Then they would move to the next section,” he said. “It was time-consuming.”
Those ratings, done on paper, then would have to be manually entered into MicroPAVER at the Alcoa Service Center, and MicroPAVER would give each road a grade.
After that, city staff would have to enter those grades into Alcoa’s Geographic Information System (GIS).
“It was a a really convoluted system,” Ortega-Valenzuela said.
Further complicating matters, he said, was that when staff would change job descriptions, they would have to train new employees on all the pieces of the pavement management program. Ortega-Valenzuela, Snoderly and Public Works Inspector Andy Davis knew there had to be a better way.
Enter Cityworks, a computer-based work order system that uses GIS technology to help manage local government assets. Because Cityworks is housed on an internal website and accessed via web browser, city staff could take Cityworks out into the field using their laptops that convert into tablets, Ortega-Valenzuela explained.
“That was a huge improvement,” he said.
But as Alcoa started implementing Cityworks last July for other Public Works projects, employees found that the software had a compatibility issue with MicroPAVER. That’s when city staff got creative. They reached out to their counterparts at the city of Maryville, which does not use MicroPaver, and asked to borrow the paper form Maryville employees use to calculate the PCI.
Alcoa staff tweaked it a bit to meet their city’s needs and then submitted the paper form to the city’s Cityworks consultant.
“They came up with a custom (computerized) form for us so Cityworks could calculate the PCI for us,” Ortega-Valenzuela said. “When you save the data, it automatically calculates PCI.”
The GIS-based system also is a “more equitable way of measuring” the condition of the pavement, he said, because only looking at predefined 2,500-square-foot sections each year could miss potholes and other problems outside the section of road that was being rated. The new method inspects the road in its entirety.
The actual measuring fell to Davis, who was absolutely “the right person for the job,” according to Ortega-Valenzuela.
“This was the first year that something takes months to do, he got it done in seven weeks,” he said. “It is his baby.”
“It was a whole lot easier to do,” added Davis, who inspected 334 sections of city streets, which is more than 100 miles of pavement.
This method of rating the roads also works well because Davis is doing all the ratings himself, Ortega-Valenzuela said, whereas multiple employees working on the same project might rate conditions differently.
Davis’ work showed that 33 percent of Alcoa’s city-maintained streets rated good/satisfactory, 35 percent rated fair and 32 percent rated poor, according to a presentation the Alcoa Board of Commissioners saw at their budget retreat May 20.
PCI grades, which range from failed (scores of 0-10) to good (scores of 86-100), are color coded so that staff quickly can see how roads rate right on a GIS map of the city.
The city does not rate routes that are maintained by the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Alcoa is confident that the new way of rating its roads is just as good, if not better, than the way the city did it previously.
“We compared the new data to our old way of doing it, and the PCI was within one or two points, so we are comfortable with it,” Snoderly said.
Now that Davis has completed rating all the roads in Alcoa, the city will move to assessing the streets in two-year increments, Ortega-Valenzuela said.
“But if we have a really bad winter, we will go back out and check our main arteries,” Davis noted, adding that he takes pictures to go with the assessments of roads that are rated in medium to bad shape.
In the meantime, Alcoa will use the data to set priorities for resurfacing projects, Snoderly said.
“This allows us to be proactive instead of reactive,” Ortega-Valenzuela added. “We can come up with a five-year plan, and once we know what roads we are going to pave when, we can reach out to utilities, for example, to see if they are planning to do any work that would impact those streets.”
Alcoa Public Works employees are so excited about harnessing Cityworks’ database power for its pavement management program that Ortega-Valenzuela also has prepared an abstract to present the city’s pavement management solution at a Cityworks conference later this year.
“This is a custom inspection we created for the city of Alcoa, but we are willing and excited to work with other smaller cities that might benefit from our processes,” he said.