Planning with Perspective

Toronto Water is using an in-house software system to find construction efficiencies across departments and overcome an infrastructure deficit.
Planning with Perspective
The Toronto water main replacement crew includes, from left, Daniel Abbott, Cory Thistle, Frank Capisi, Karl Kopp and Dominic Biauchi, all from subcontractor Midome Construction Services. (Photography by Richard Bell)

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Like most cities, Toronto is working to overcome a large sewer and water infrastructure deficit. With an assertive plan to eliminate that deficit over 10 years, Toronto Water is using an in-house software suite, T.O. INview (short for Toronto Infrastructure Viewer), to coordinate their capital works programs with other infrastructure projects, both public and private. The goal: to reduce duplication, save money, reduce traffic congestion and even work around major events, such as the 2015 Pan American Games (see sidebar).

Toronto's massive sewer and water infrastructure has a replacement value estimated at $28 billion. Its sewer and water renewal backlog was estimated at $1.7 billion at the end of 2011.

The system is entirely funded by revenue generated by ratepayers and serves not only the city, but also clients in the neighboring regions of York and Peel. However, water conservation efforts represent a double-edged sword. As the volume of water consumed declines, so does revenue.

"We're constantly challenged to balance rate increases with reductions in operating costs so that we can devote additional resources to capital improvements," says Michael D'Andrea, M.E.Sc., P.E., director, Water Infrastructure Management with Toronto Water.

The division has, for example, eliminated more than 355 positions since 1998, while capital investment in the system has tripled over the past 10 years.

"We also operate under a strictly controlled legislative and regulatory framework, and that impacts both capital and operating budgets," says D'Andrea.

Unfunded projects a challenge

Necessary — but unfunded — projects have also added to the challenges. The division accelerated its capital spending by almost $250 million from 2009 to 2011. The capital budget for 2012 alone topped $600 million, including $60 million in basement flooding protection and $110 million in sewer and water main replacement and rehabilitation.

The city is just completing a $200 million upgrade to its F.J. Horgan Water Treatment Plant and several large transmission main upgrade projects are either ongoing or on the horizon.

An unfunded wet weather flow master plan, which will address combined sewer overflow into the city's Don River, among other issues, will cost in excess of $1.4 billion by 2021. Other unfunded projects over the same period will add $200 to $300 million to capital costs.

"In short, we've got a challenging decade of growth, improvement and rehabilitation ahead of us," says D'Andrea.

Toronto Water will be aided in that task by the city's newly created division of Major Capital Infrastructure Coordination (MCIC). The division is responsible for improving methods of coordination and communication among city divisions and other organizations that develop and operate utilities and infrastructure across the city. These range from the city's Transportation Services division, to the Toronto Transit Commission, provincial transit agencies, and gas, electrical and telecommunications companies.

MCIC's mantra: Early intervention in the capital planning process can mitigate the risks that arise when multiple organizations plan, design and build capital projects simultaneously.

"As recently as two years ago, those goals were pursued using a printed map that reflected, at a given moment, all planned infrastructure work that was approved by city council for construction the following year," says Jeffrey Climans, M.A., MIMA, PLE, director of MCIC. "By the time the document was printed, it was partially obsolete, as planning considerations for the next budget cycle, and events that were taking place in the field, led to changes in the scope and staging of capital projects depicted on the map."

Web-based solution developed

MCIC's solution was the development of a Web-based mapping program that could easily be altered as plans evolved, spending priorites changed, and budgets fell into place. A Web-based tool also offered the ability to reach out to all infrastructure operators and allow them to to share their planned capital programs with each other.

"The typical approach in developing software is to hire a consultant," says Climans. "In this case, we decided to capitalize on the expertise of existing staff and a tool kit of mapping applications that had been developed by divisions across the city. We took advantage of the in-house knowledge of infrastructure planning, development and operations, and our own IT systems and staff, to build the system internally."

The system platform incorporates digitized maps tagged with information compiled through ArcGIS mapping software (Esri). The inaugural version of the software was produced at no additional cost to ratepayers or taxpayers, and was launched in mid-2012.

The T.O. INview Web page reveals a street map of the city. Menu options allow the user to select a choice of city construction, utility construction and third-party construction overlays. A series of sub-menus allows information to be fine-tuned.

"With a mouse click, the user can differentiate between water main replacement, water main rehabilitation, transmission water main work, water service replacement, sewer replacement, sewer rehabilitation, stormwater management projects and basement flooding protection," says Climans. "Zooming in on a particular street will allow the user to access specific project details."

Users can then overlay any other type of infrastructure construction plans, from road work to installation of fiber-optic cable by private companies who share their information with the city voluntarily.

"It's to the private utilities' advantage to participate," says Climans. "If water mains are being replaced on a street, they may choose to coordinate with the city to upgrade data lines in a particular location at no additional construction cost to themselves. By disclosing our capital program in advance, the utilities also face less risk of missing opportunities to perform work in a location that might be subjected to a construction moratorium when we're finished.

Fully democratic, the software is as equally accessible to citizens who want to know why a city construction truck is parked at the manhole down the street as to senior staff in the mayor's office.

Climans says that Toronto Water was an obvious choice for the initial website roll-out. "They're the poster child for T.O. INview," he says. "Toronto Water is one of our core programs and has a highly refined internal capital planning process. They were already creating usable maps and GIS-tagging their infrastructure and it's that information we import directly."

D'Andrea notes that the visual representation of capital planning now provided is the key improvement noted in his division.

"The graphic representation of that information in T.O. INview is the currency we now exchange among divisions," he says.

Condition assessment critical

While T.O. INview can provide early warning of future work planned by one division that may have implications for another, moving forward on those projects requires accurate assessment of infrastructure. However, road conditions, for example, are easier to assess than the condition of underground assets and that currently allows road work to be planned with greater certainty than sewer and water work.

"We didn't exactly know which projects would come into the fold and that put pressure on us to perform more complete underground assessment," says D'Andrea. "When Transportation Services expresses an interest in reconstructing a road, we need to perform an underground condition assessment in that area of water, sewer and stormwater systems. It's laborious, especially on the sewer side, because we need to send in a CCTV contractor to deliver a visual inspection record to our offices to determine the condition of the pipe and how much time we have before we need to intervene. If the work required is urgent, we might choose to use trenchless technologies instead of dig-and-replace. If we can wait for the road work, or the road work schedule is advanced to meet our needs, then we can dig and road reinstatement costs won't be a factor."

Road construction planning is also benefiting from Toronto Water's basement flooding abatement program.

"We're literally breaking up communities to shoehorn in new drainage systems, so it stands to reason that Transportation Services may want to take a hard-nosed look at the condition of those roads and advance their reconstruction schedule," says D'Andrea. "However, it's a balancing act between budgets and needs. We'd love to rip out all of the old infrastructure every time a road is opened, but we still need to be mindful of the funds we can devote to that. What happens if the budget as forecast today doesn't materialize? Or what if a project is deferred, and the budget isn't there for the division the following year?"

T.O. INview continues to expand the scope of capital work covered to additional city divisions and other external programs. The version of the software now under development is designed to provide a rolling five-year capital construction schedule and is expected to be available to city staff and external partners in 2013.

One current feature of the system initially created some trepidation among staff members, notes D'Andrea.

"By hovering the cursor over a particular project, users can see the name of the project manager assigned to a sewer or water project and their telephone number," he says. "They can also click on the box and email that person directly. Initially, staff members were worried that they would be swamped with calls or emails, but that hasn't turned out to be the case. We can provide this sort of transparency without compromising their workload."


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