Civil Engineers Devise Framework to Coordinate Water and Road Repairs

Why repair a road today if it’s destined to be ripped up for new sewers the following summer? This sort of question is at the center of research from Tarek Zayed, and Amin Hammad, Professors in Concordia’s Department of Building, Civil, and Environmental Engineering (BCEE), and Ph.D. candidates Soliman A. Abu-Samra and Mahmoud Ahmed.

Image credit: Concordia’s Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering

“Better coordination at city hall is the key to less costly repairs,” says Abu-Samra. “We’ve shown that streamlining maintenance results in huge financial and time savings.”

Their findings have been reported in the Journal of Construction Engineering and Management.

Canada is experiencing an enormous infrastructure deficit that was estimated at $123 billion in 2007 and is increasing by about $2 billion annually. Thus, there is a need for more efficient use of municipalities’ budgets to enhance the level of service delivered to taxpayers.

Soliman A. Abu-Samra

The Math Behind Better Fixes

To show to city departments that it’s worth it for them to synchronize their efforts, the research prepared an original asset management framework with manifold objectives.

It considers the physical state of infrastructures, user expenses, lifecycle costs, and replacement value.

The framework uses three principal models: a database model containing comprehensive asset inventory for water and road networks; an optimization algorithm to schedule activities; and key performance indicator (KPI) computational models for measuring the impact of intervention plans.

“The algorithm simulates thousands of scenarios to reach an optimal one,” says Abu-Samra.

Consider Kelowna

The Concordia team applied their system to water and road networks in Kelowna, B.C., where the results indicated lifecycle costs could be diminished by 33% and user costs halved.

Their test also revealed the potential to include electricity, gas, sewer, and telecom networks, given that information can be shared.

It may sound like common sense, but proactive coordination between different city departments can be difficult. They tend to work in silos, with plans and annual reports created independently.

Soliman A. Abu-Samra

Next stop, Montreal?

Zayed and Abu-Samra are presently in discussions with the City of Montreal to put the framework into use, although there is no official arrangement to work together at this phase.

Better coordination would cause less disruption, which has been increasingly obvious this year, especially in the roads sector, where 2,000 potholes are repaired every day.

A more integrated approach would result in an optimized expenditure of our annual budget along with an enhanced level of service, which is urgently needed given the deteriorating condition of our infrastructures.

Soliman A. Abu-Samra

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