Patching the virtual pothole: the Internet and public works

Dave Reinke
APWA-InfoLink Project Manager

Is your agency online? What does it mean to have public works online? APWA's InfoLink has been adding new links to communities and companies at a steady rate, and it is useful to see some of the variety of content available from different cities and agencies. If your agency isn't online yet, the following examples show some of the ways it can happen. The links to the following sites, and others, can be found at http://www.apwa-infolink.com.

One of the most important uses of the Internet at this time is also the most basic-the sharing of information. Every city, agency, and company has information to share, and the Internet makes it easy to disseminate the information to a wide audience. The City of San Jose, California, posts everything from PowerPoint( presentations of civic center construction to live webcasts (streaming audio and video) of City Council meetings on its website (http://www.ci.san-jose.ca.us/). The site also includes many of the other features often found in a municipal site: copies of ordinances, a city-wide personnel directory, and information on parks, schools, neighborhoods, and city services. It also contains links to State of California sites, including late-breaking news on the energy crisis, and the Department of Motor Vehicles (where citizens can renew auto registrations online).

Another common feature of city sites is a section on bids and contracts. When looking for bidders, the Internet increases reach to state, national, and even international bidders. The City of Atlanta, Georgia, posts all its Requests for Proposals (RFPs) online (http://www.ci.atlanta.ga.us). The value for both parties is obvious; by having a large number of bidders know about projects, the state or city can maximize the number and variety of bids, and the bidder can use the Internet to find new potential bid opportunities within a region, state, and beyond. This was one of the features of the initial Kansas City Metro Chapter's version of InfoLink that drew enthusiastic support from users.

One of the more advanced online features is dynamic mapping: The City of Portland, Oregon, makes available a wide variety of Geographic Information System (GIS) data online at http://www.cgis.ci.portland.or.us/maps/index.cfm. Zoning and tax maps, aerial photography, sanitation and water districts, even crime reports based on city statistics can be mapped online. The user has control through a standard browser (Netscape( or Microsoft Explorer() of zoom levels and which data layers to include. Maps for bikeways and local transit options can also be downloaded. Portland also has a section of video files playable through Realplayer(, including an informative eight-minute video on the importance of community right-of-way.

Another advanced feature of web access can be customer interaction:. The South Carolina One Call Center, the Palmetto Utility Protection Service, Inc. (P.U.P.S.) has made full use of the Internet on both the public and utility member sides of its operations (http://www.sc1pups.org/). It allows citizens to enter their proposed work online, which generates a ticket that can be routed any number of ways, both high- and low-tech, to affected utility members. Members can choose to receive them over the Internet in a custom ticket management application, greatly reducing the overhead required to manage them.

Innovation can also be found in transit/transportation areas. An application of e-mail technology to alert motorists and bus riders during last year's World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle won an international award in the "Best in ITS" Annual Awards Program of the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America). The GOVLINK WTO Traffic and Transit Alert program, a partnership of the transportation departments of Seattle, King County, and Washington State (http://www.govlink.org/), helped more than 10,000 Seattle area motorists save time and avoid civil disturbances through subscriptions to a special e-mail and pager service that provided daily updates and late-breaking information from the three GOVLINK partners. Another 10,000 bus riders received e-mail and pager updates through King County Transit Alert. As a result of weeks of advance planning and cooperation, and with minimal new cost, the three transportation agencies were able to notify subscribers almost immediately of emergency changes in street and bus conditions. Additional areas of the site provide real-time information on traffic congestion and highway construction projects.

Perhaps one of the less obvious components of a municipal web site is a historical perspective. What better way to show how far you've come than to give citizens an appreciation of the past? A link from the Chicago, Illinois Department of Sewers (http://w5.ci.chi.il.us/Sewers/) shows how some of the original infrastructure looked, and provides a comprehensive history of the development of sanitation and water delivery infrastructure. Of course, the site also contains complete information for the current user, from permitting applications and fees to documents for storm water inlet control.

These sites provide some examples of how the Internet can function as part of your public works department, and more examples can be seen through APWA-InfoLink. Much has been made in the media of the changing economic climate for "dot-com" companies, but just because Wall Street changes its valuation of a technology company doesn't change the basic impact the Internet will continue to have on every aspect of modern life. If anything, the need to do more with less is even more important, and the benefits of the Internet in terms of reach and efficiency should make it as much a part of public works as your backhoe and patching mix. If your agency is online, make sure to register on APWA-InfoLink and link your site. And if your agency is not yet online, think about scheduling it as your next construction project.

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