Maintaining and replacing Edmonton’s current infrastructure, while tapping into funding sources for expensive new projects, is a daunting task for City Council and administration.
The challenge for Konrad Siu, director of Edmonton’s Office of Infrastructure and Funding Strategy, and his staff, includes calculating the total value of the City’s infrastructure and identifying what needs to be repaired or built in order of priority.
The repair and new construction priorities also have to be balanced against the available budget and an approach that gets the best return for tax dollars.
The strategy developed by Siu and his team in the City’s Finance and Treasury department won a silver medal from the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC), presented in council chambers on Dec. 17, 2008.
Edmonton has over $33 billion worth of infrastructure assets. Siu’s team estimated in 2008 that Edmonton will need to spend $27 billion over the next 10 years to renew existing assets and build new infrastructure to accommodate growth.
The IPAC award praises Edmonton’s innovative approach to managing asset needs, because it challenges the way municipalities across Canada and around the world traditionally approach infrastructure.
“We look at infrastructure differently,” says Siu, a veteran civil engineer. “In part, it is an expenditure. But it’s also an investment that supports economic prosperity and the quality of life for our citizens.”
Cities across Canada are playing catch-up on infrastructure investment after spending too little on infrastructure during the lean 1980s and ’90s.
In the late 1990s, Edmonton realized that without a long-term strategy it could not sustain its infrastructure assets, or afford to build new ones. The first unique step was creating an office dedicated to analyzing assets and developing a funding strategy.
City officials didn’t work in isolation. More than seven years ago, Siu created an Infrastructure Technical Advisory Committee, an external group of experts representing more than 20 national and local professional organizations with varying perspectives on infrastructure management.
Edmonton’s model is a departure from simply accounting for infrastructure spending ad hoc. Instead, priority projects are identified when funds are limited and tough decisions must be made.
The model calculates risk by multiplying the probability that a piece of infrastructure will fail (based on age and deterioration) against the impact its failure would have on citizens (according to health and safety, service to the community, environmental protection, growth sustainability, and overall dollar value).
“The model supports strategic long-term asset management planning that is balancing the immediate rebuild need in some communities with a preventative maintenance approach in others,” explains Siu.
“Infrastructure management is evolving beyond the traditional engineering, finance and technical arena to include municipal planning and policy development.”
This approach has been put into action with the City’s neighbourhood renewal program, which uses earmarked taxes to preserve and rebuild aging communities. The combination of preventative maintenance and reconstruction in a sustained infrastructure program ensures the most cost-effective approach over the long-term.
Edmonton’s approach beat dozens of nominations for the 2008 IPAC awards. The awards, sponsored by Deloitte & Touche LLP, acknowledge leadership within all orders of government, and recognize innovation, efficacy and collaboration.
Other jurisdictions are eager to learn from Edmonton’s success. The Institute of Public Works Engineering Australia, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials are among the public services examining the Edmonton approach.
This external interest reinforces Edmonton’s international reputation as one of the most progressive jurisdictions for infrastructure asset management.