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Ontario welcomes asset management system


April 13, 2010
By Rob Bradford

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The announcement Feb. 22 that the Ontario Ministry of Transportation
will provide $450,000 for further development of the Municipal
DataWorks system was welcome news in a province without  factual
comparative or aggregate information about the state of municipal
infrastructure.

The announcement Feb. 22 that the Ontario Ministry of Transportation will provide $450,000 for further development of the Municipal DataWorks system was welcome news in a province without  factual comparative or aggregate information about the state of municipal infrastructure.

Municipal DataWorks is the brainchild of the Ontario Good Roads Association (OGRA). It is an infrastructure asset management system offered free of charge to municipalities. It’s a work in progress that when fully developed will allow municipalities to create a full inventory of their assets, track life cycles, monitor their condition and develop asset management strategies. For the first time many municipalities will be able to identify their infrastructure priorities based on asset management principles and develop longer-term strategies for optimum maintenance of those assets.

Industry organizations such as the Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA) and the sewer and watermain association have supported the development of Municipal DataWorks through its initial stages because it will for the first time provide factual information about the state of municipal infrastructure across the province. With such planning tools in place, municipal and provincial governments will be able allocate tax dollars more efficiently by planning infrastructure investments using life-cycle planning principles. The new funding committed by MTO will allow Municipal DataWorks to complete the application software still required to bring the system to full functionality.

Kathleen Wynne, the new Minister of Transportation, got it exactly right when she noted, “In today’s challenging economy tools such as the Municipal DataWorks help us allocate taxpayer dollars efficiently and effectively.”

A good example of that? We know many of Ontario’s municipal bridges are getting old and in need of rehabilitation – some may in fact be unsafe. We don’t know how many bridges need work. With a fully operational Municipal DataWorks system in place, participating municipalities will know the condition of their bridges, know which ones are the priority from a safety perspective and will be able to develop long-term strategies for maintaining them in a safe condition.

The operative word here though is “participating” municipalities. Municipal DataWorks is currently a voluntary system and road builders have suggested to the provincial government that it needs to be mandatory. Further, ORBA has said that participation should be prerequisite to receiving provincial funding for municipal infrastructure. It isn’t a popular recommendation because the province is loathe to dictate such things to municipalities and municipalities don’t generally take too kindly to being told what to do by the senior level of government. But infrastructure dollars are hard to come by and it is not an unreasonable expectation that municipalities would participate in a system that facilitates cost-effective decisions focusing on the demonstrated priorities.

There are currently 292 municipalities using the system to varying degrees – about 65 per cent of all municipalities – but for Municipal DataWorks to deliver on its full potential to improve municipal infrastructure asset management in Ontario, and to create a database on which responsible investment strategies can be developed, 100 per cent of municipalities need to be participating.

Many municipalities still choose not to participate and some of the smaller, rural municipalities are not taking advantage of the asset management system. These may be the municipalities that need the system most to establish the case for assistance in funding their infrastructure needs. Some larger municipalities may already have their own asset management systems in place, but their information still needs to be incorporated into the provincial database.

Municipal DataWorks presents the opportunity to start managing Ontario’s municipal infrastructure assets from a systems perspective – to identify those assets and to make investment decisions based on sound asset management principles. The tools are there, although some municipalities are going to need a little push.

Rob Bradford is Executive Director of the Ontario Road Builders’ Association.