Who is doing what, where, and when in the Right-of-Way: New directions in infrastructure collaboration

David Reinke
InfoLink Project Manager

In last month's issue of the APWA Reporter this space examined some of the pressures being placed upon the managers of America's Right-of-Way (R-O-W). Communities across the country are trying to deal with a record number of projects that are both digging up existing pavement and laying new streets for expanding developments, and the demands on the resources of municipalities have never been more severe.

With all the digging, trenching, boring, and excavating, how does the R-O-W manager control and manage all the activity? APWA and IZOIC are in the process of developing the next version of InfoLink, which will build on the existing Internet site (www.apwa-infolink.com) to incorporate a software application to allow managing and coordinating all incursions in the Right-of-Way.

The APWA-InfoLink Strike Team, a cross-section of R-O-W managers from different sized cities in different parts of the country, met recently and shared the issues they regularly confront. These public works professionals told us what they needed and how they worked, and the development of the application is driven by their needs and expressed desires. The single largest issue that emerged from the meeting is the need to have access to the basic information about projects impacting their Right-of-Way. "The real key to managing my streets is knowing exactly what is happening, both planned and emergency activity," says Sandra Bever, Strike Team member from the City of Greenville, South Carolina.

The key to this version of InfoLink is the ability to know who is doing what, and where and when the activity is taking place. Because each stakeholder in a project has different needs, InfoLink is designed to be flexible. Information collaboration allows each user to view appropriate information about each project, and each of the different departments within an agency can now determine activity, coordinate efforts, and share information in a meaningful, automated fashion. The InfoLink application will draw from three sources of data: project registration, permitting data, and excavation notices. The project registration component captures information on long-range plans; permitting data relays short-term plans; and excavation records reflect current activity. While each data source is continually updated, a snapshot at any given point of time might draw upon all three: project registration (1 to 3 years out), permitting data (30-90 days out), and excavation notices (24-72 hours out).

Maricopa County is a participant on the Strike Team, and has implemented a project registration system of their own to help manage R-O-W issues. Mr. Wayne Butch, Engineering, Administration and Support Manager, envisioned the system as being able to help avoid having newly-laid asphalt trenched by a company that could have done it before, if they had only known about upcoming projects. The system he has in place lays the foundation for a collaborative tool like the InfoLink application. "It's hard to put a value on early coordination," says Wayne, "but it's very clear once you start digging."

Delivered over the Internet, the application is easy to use-it works from a regular browser window, and no intervention from an IT staff is necessary. There are no installation headaches, and the application is there when you need it, 24 hours a day, from any location. The registration process already in place identifies each user, and additional levels of security can be incorporated when necessary.

The map-based (or Geographic Information System-"GIS") software allows the use of street-level maps showing all activity in a specified area. If, for example, a citizen calls in with a complaint about work in front of his house, the manager can click on the area to determine who is doing the work, its scheduled duration, and any future activity planned for that area. The system is being designed to take advantage of the portability and transferability of information and data obtained from these three sources, combining it in a single management application. In addition to determining immediate impact, the data captured can also be used to review status of previously planned projects which had been placed on hold. All activity that has taken place in the project area or is planned for the area has been captured, and can be analyzed and reported as required.

Future enhancements to the InfoLink application might include ties with on-line permitting and licensing systems. This would allow the manager to determine if a contractor has obtained all the necessary permits for any given project, for example, or to ensure that each contractor working on a given project is licensed and bonded.

InfoLink will have a booth at Congress, and interested users are encouraged to stop by and register if you haven't already. Registration on InfoLink now allows you to link your agency or company's website with others offering specific public works information, and will soon allow access to tools that will enable even more productive collaboration.

For more information on any aspect of APWA-InfoLink, contact Dave Reinke at 202-408-9541, or dreinke@apwa.net.