Aging infrastructure: A major challenge for communities
Aging infrastructure is a major challenge for communities. Not just for a handful of isolated urban or rural centres but as a nationwide and international problem. It is a dilemma with the potential to erode the lifestyle we have come to expect.
As a public works professional, you have a critical role in ensuring the long-term sustainability of your community. It is not something you can leave for somebody else to worry about.
Infrastructure is the foundation of our communities. It provides all the basics most of our citizen’s take for granted. Essentials like roads, bridges, community facilities, sewage, water and waste management.
A typical small community might have infrastructure assets with a replacement value of 20 million, 50 million, or even 1 billion euro for larger communities. We cannot afford to let the investments of previous generations to fail.
The problem is we are often struggling to cope with the demands of growth, or development booms and busts. And while well-maintained infrastructure is critical to our economic growth and stability, public safety and a high quality of life – it is also costly.
The impacts of climate change are only going to increase our future risks. We must plan for more frequent and extreme rain events and extended droughts.
Infrastructure assets generally have long lives, some enduring well past the century mark. But by their very creation, they generate a raft of ongoing responsibilities and challenges. Ultimately we are faced with the expensive prospect of total replacement or renewal – even for infrastructure local government did not originally provide.
Assets are depreciating at a rate of many billions of euro’s per annum, and many local governments are effectively running deficit budgets. They have substantial infrastructure renewal liabilities that they are ill-equipped to meet.
This is a dilemma for our communities. There have been significant changes in demand for services, but municipal governments don’t have a lot of control over the revenues that are available to them. Municipalities are often dependent on other levels of government for assistance.
What can you do about it if you don’t want to leave a liability for future generations? Three key elements are pivotal to the future viability of your community:
• You have to understand and accept your stewardship responsibility.
• You must know what your community can afford, and
• You need to move from annual budgeting to long-term financial planning.
Developing an infrastructure asset management plan is a must, and is a logical 4 step process:
1.Know what you already own, and the level of service you can currently afford; estimate the cost to maintain and renew your assets to meet future service levels.
2.Consider any increase in demand and cost for services from development growth, the impact of climate change, or changes in population or community expectations.
3.Prepare a life cycle management plan for your assets; know where they are in their life cycle.
4.Undertake risk and financial projections determining assets and services most important to your community, and options to balance levels of service and cost.
To take this further, your community needs an Asset Management Plan. And eventually, you must move from annual budgeting to long-term financial planning. The long term has to become an essential part of doing business.
Proper planning for vibrant communities begins with the vision for tomorrow. And tomorrow can only fulfil its promise, if actions are put on the agenda today. You need to be proactive, not reactive taking a “fix it when it’s broken” approach.
It doesn’t matter how small you are, the smallest community or the largest city, you need to embrace the process of asset management and make sure that asset management is an essential part of your decision making.
You can accept what is, or you can choose to build and manage the community you want.
You can choose what change is needed or you can wait to see what happens.
You can react to circumstances or you can influence them. You have the choice.
What is your legacy for future generations going to be?
Learn more skills. If you want to learn more skills in asset management, write your organization’s asset management plan – and earn a qualification at the same time, explore IPWEA’s internationally recognized Professional Certificate in Asset Management Planning www.ipwea.org/certificate.
Watch the video clip. If you would like to see this article as an animation to tell the story and provide critical insights about infrastructure to community decision makers, please visit https://sho.co/1BZ79.
Chris Champion, Director International Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia firstname.lastname@example.org
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