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Making the Most of What We’ve Got!

Why SDOT has undertaken development of a systematic Asset Management Program

There are approximately 3,946 12-foot wide lane miles of streets within the city of Seattle; the street right of way (ROW) occupies 24.8 percent of the city surface area.

That public ROW system, or Seattle’s urban transportation system, not only consists of a street system of paved roads, but also a sidewalk system, a bicycle network, bridges and other roadway structures like stairways, a traffic control network, paths and trails, street signs, traffic safety structures and devices, parking pay stations, parcels and buildings such as the King Street Station, e-Park garage system, electronic signage about roadway conditions, a streetcar system, and an urban forest. SDOT also operates a central control center for the signal system from a location in the Seattle Municipal Tower.

As widely reported when the Bridging the Gap (BTG) transportation levy was approved by voters in 2006, much of the city’s aging transportation infrastructure, some of it dating back to the late 1800s, had fallen into disrepair due to lack of funding.  In preparation for the BTG levy, the department undertook an effort to identify desperately needed preservation funding for these assets.  This was a difficult undertaking because there was a lack of available documented conditions beyond the status of bridges and arterial pavement. 

So, “what is asset management?,” you say.  SDOT defines Asset Management as a strategic and systematic process that guides decisions about construction, maintenance and operation of SDOT infrastructure. In other words, beyond securing the funding to repair the broken system, there was a need to plan the wisest approach for spending and stretching every precious dollar.

As part of the BTG levy, a formal Asset Management program was established in 2007 to help the department systematically identify and evaluate what it owned, what condition it was in, and how to better manage and replace those assets. This program provides the structure and departmental standards for a business model based on the International Infrastructure Management Manual, developed in New Zealand and Australia, which provides strategy for efficient management of infrastructure assets. In its first year, the program focused on the department’s infrastructure assets and produced the 2007 Status and Condition Report.

 This report served a dual purpose: 

1)        To provide a description of the assets owned by SDOT, the value and condition of those assets, and the funding needed to maintain and preserve them.

2)        It also pointed out where we had gaps in our information and helped SDOT to identify where to focus the work program. 

 Additionally, the report has provided an important baseline of information to use in making decisions on future asset management efforts in the Department, for process improvements as well as management decisions on the operation, maintenance, and preservation or replacement of the infrastructure.

 Asset Management in SDOT will be developed and conducted to achieve this vision: Transportation excellence through expert, credible and responsive asset management. The program is guided by these goals:

  • Achieve Sustainability over the transportation infrastructure lifecycle
  • Practice Accountability to the citizens of the city of Seattle in its stewardship of the transportation infrastructure
  • Resource allocations will reflect Transparency so that decision are easily communicated and understandable

 SDOT’s Asset Management Program at a Glance

As SDOT has adopted asset management to meet the challenges of preserving Seattle’s transportation infrastructure, the department has elected to implement the asset management business model through a multi-year program of continuous, compounded improvement in infrastructure asset management policies and practices. SDOT is proceeding through the development of the fundamental building blocks in a basic asset management program:

• Inventory, condition, and useful life of the infrastructure assets

• Level-of-service standards for the assets

• Business risk exposure presented by the asset by considering the consequences and likelihood of any given type of asset failure

•Life-cycle costs (full cost of ownership) including environmental, financial, and social justice implications

• Finally, the department builds asset management plans that include all of the information above and coordinates management of the asset throughout the department

 In the next edition of this multi-part series, we’ll discuss our simple three-tier rating to describe condition and assessment of an asset.