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Sunday, 03 June 2012 11:47

GVMC adds efficiencies to road monitoring systems

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GVMC adds efficiencies to road monitoring systems Courtesy photo
GRAND RAPIDS — Finding funds for much needed services like infrastructure improvements is challenging when local governments are in a constant cost-cutting mode. 

The Grand Valley Metro Council, tasked with finding funding to maintain the city's roadways and other mobility issues, has used a Pavement Management System (PaMS) to track the condition of local infrastructure, including signage, since 1995.

While federal regulation requiring the maintenance of a PaMS system came and went in the mid-1990s, GVMC thought it advantageous to continue its use.

For years, GVMC spent hundreds of thousands of dollars paying outside consultants to record and report data, which would be used to prioritize what little money was allotted for infrastructure repair or enhancement.

But in 2006, with the help of federal funds to offset the cost, GVMC purchased a $460,000 Ford Geographical Information System van. Equipped with several cameras, laser scanning devices and a sophisticated data capturing software, GVMC was able cut the cost of data collection from $125,000 to $35,000 per year.

"Before we purchased the van, it cost us about $259 per mile. Now it costs around $50 per mile," said Abed Itani, transportation director for the GVMC. "Now what we're trying to do is improve the capability of the van."

At a recent GVMC board meeting, the council approved spending another $25,000 to outfit the vehicle with a rear-facing camera. Prior to this update, the van would have to double back on streets to collect road sign data from the opposite side of the street.

Covering roughly 2,400 miles of road annually, the van's having to backtrack an average of 800 miles wasn't exactly the most efficient means of data collection, Itani said.

When the vehicle was purchased, it marked the first time a mobile, semi-automated, advanced technology system was used to gather and analyze road condition data in Michigan.

Without the technology, most municipalities in Michigan use "windshield surveys" utilizing the Pavement Surface and Evaluation Rating system, which relies on observational data collection using a one to 10 rating scale. Roads with major distress are rated a one, while a 10 indicates a new road.

However, GVMC's van has helped remove redundancies from the data-gathering process. The result is a more streamlined survey process that reduces collection time and the number of staff needed to complete the work. In an effort to tailor the geographical information system software more specifically, GVMC formed a contract with Michigan Tech University.

During the construction season (April through November), the GVMC vehicle scans freeways and surface streets in the Grand Rapids metropolitan area. Traveling at normal road speeds, the lasers and cameras capture road data and GPS tags certain deficiencies for later analysis. Each street profile, everything from traffic signals to guard rails, is then cataloged.

The stored information can be accessed from just about anywhere and can be converted into video format as well, Itani said.

Today, data collection is available for free to all 35 GVMC member communities and paid for through membership dues.

Cities in Georgia and Alabama have requested to pay GVMC for the service, but driving the van to those states is not a cost-competitive option for the organization. Still, Itani said GVMC would likely provide the service to most cities in Michigan and perhaps Ohio and Indiana within a 300 to 400 mile radius, depending on the number of miles needing data collection. Already the city of Novi has contracted for the service.

Itani said many of the private consultants he has seen do not offer the range of service that GVMC can with the van.

"We try to help local communities. They deserve that help and they have limited resources," he said. "Basically our prices are at least a 40 percent discount to the market price."

If there is any return when contracting the service out, Itani said it could be between five percent and 20 percent, depending on the size of the job, though any profits from the service would likely be put back into the GVMC fund to pay down member dues.

Itani said road improvement expenditures this year for the Grand Rapids metropolitan area total $12 million so far, however there are $33 million of improvements needed to maintain the system.

The current data collection should finish in August or September at the latest. Itani said right now, the GVMC has requests from Middleville, Wayland and Hastings for the service and should be completed over the next few months.

Read 1560 times Last modified on Thursday, 02 August 2012 16:14

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