Point of Beginning

According to Code

February 27, 2001
Surveyors Bruce Sims, Jim Spencer and Dave Falconer collect data from local manholes.


Surveyors, cartographers and other GIS professionals will find many opportunities in the public works and water resources industries in the near future. Agencies, special districts, and city and state governments will soon need to produce accurate inventory documentation in the form of field-verified Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to account for every asset in their public works or water resources systems. The heightened accountability is due to a host of pending federal standards and regulations requiring compliance for funding. The sharp mix includes the most comprehensive accounting standard in the history of the government, GASB Statement 34 (GASB 34), recommended by the Government Accounting Standards Board. New reporting standards, released in June of 1999, require reporting on all capital assets including infrastructure assets such as streets, bridges, tunnels, water and sewer systems, dams, signs, signals and lighting systems. Compliance with GASB 34 will begin with fiscal year June 15, 2001.

The Purpose of the Standard

Developing the documentation parallels heightened public awareness of a looming funding gap to provide for our nation?s infrastructure maintenance and upkeep. As a nation, our funding gap is in excess of $23 billion to provide necessary rehabilitation and maintenance activities. Undoubtedly, public works and water resources professionals will need to respond with a heavy dose of pro-activity, sound planning and program management for compliance beginning with the first phase of GASB 34 implementation. These agencies must first take an inventory of the assets in their systems and then begin to account for all costs associated with performing work and responding to customer complaints. The task of compiling an inventory can be awesome. To date, no standards exist for record-keeping of assets. Agencies nationwide must gather, sort and purge documentation from such sources as obsolete legacy systems, Excel and Access spreadsheets and databases, as-builts and three-ring binders, to begin an inventory. In some instances, mapping and asset documentation has been lost. In other instances, existing documentation does not account for the majority of actual assets.

Updating and verifying mapping documentation and translating asset information into an electronic medium suitable for heightened reporting requirements can be one of the greatest obstacles of the federal standards. This obstacle can provide an incredible opportunity for surveyors and GIS professionals. To meet the challenge, agencies, special districts, and city and state governments will need to utilize a potent combination of traditional survey methods, GPS accuracy and the database technology of Computerized Asset Management Systems (CAMS).

Close up view of infrastructure system of subdivision.

One Case Study?

(and one beneficial utility combo)

One such government, the city of Hampton, Va., has found mixing a variety of methodology to be the most efficient way to update and verify obsolete mapping documentation for a 100-year-old waste-water system. The city has spent the last three years in pursuit of a comprehensive utility layer for its existing GIS. To begin the process of translating the obsolete information found on as-builts and other asset documentation located in the city engineering office several miles away, its wastewater division devised a plan maximizing internal and external resources.

To begin the infrastructure GIS project, David A. Reaves, director of the wastewater division of public works for the city, consulted with Mark McKercher, the city?s former GIS manager. Under McKercher?s direction, the city of Hampton had become an area leader in technology. The city has worked aggressively for the last three years to add data layers to its GIS. At a recent area GIS conference, the city of Hampton received recognition from local GIS professionals on its technology platform and ability to present information of public record via the Internet. To begin the comprehensive GIS/Internet project, McKercher contracted with a local consultant to implement ESRI?s MapObjects IMS (ESRI, Redwoods, Calif.). This Internet application provides GIS Internet access to information of public record, including parcel identification, street addresses, owner names and real estate data for a five-county area.

After consulting with McKercher on the project of digitizing the city?s sanitary sewer system, the two men agreed to hire an outside firm to provide GPS coordinates for 8,124 easily identifiable manholes. Estimates on the total number of structures in the system, including valves, were as high as 12,000.

Employees from Woolpert LLP, Dayton, Ohio, strapped Trimble GPS Pathfinder Pro XR (Trimble, Sunnyvale, Calif.) equipment to bicycles and traveled throughout the city to gather the points. With an easy-to-use GIS data collection and data maintenance system that provides real-time submeter accuracy, the Pro XR combines real-time beacon and GPS capabilities in a single receiver and antenna, making it compact and robust. The integration and flexibility of these technologies meant the unit was ideal for citywide data gathering.

City personnel accompanied the professionals from Woolpert in the field. By providing assistance, the city employees had become familiar with data collection standards and the Trimble instrument. After about three months of accumulating the points, the firm drew in missing lines on the existing documentation and concluded the project by indicating their estimate for the source and flow of the wastewater system.

Big picture view of infrastructure system of city from ESRI’s ArcView.
Since the city personnel were already going into the field and had become familiar with collecting GPS coordinate values, Reaves thought they might as well gather the information for the harder-to-find manholes. The city purchased its own Pathfinder Pro XR unit. The GPS work was completed by field crews from the wastewater division who located and gathered GPS coordinates on manholes located in alleys, buried in yards, or covered with asphalt. Following the project this summer, the city will keep the equipment to use later to gather information on other systems such as storm, traffic and roadways.

?Having the equipment provides an element of control to complete a project,? Reaves said, adding that he has had to stretch the typical range of activities for his personnel and equipment in order to accommodate the infrastructure GIS project. Several surveyors from the city engineering department have been transitioned into the wastewater division to help collect data.

If Woolpert were contracted again to gather the coordinates for at least 2,500 of the remaining 3,500 harder-to-find manholes, the service would have cost roughly $11,000. According to Reaves, the difference between purchasing the equipment and contracting with an outside firm to gather the points was almost equal. Now, the city will not incur an additional charge for gathering GPS coordinates for the remaining manholes or for future projects.

Implementing the Standard

Reaves also hired Susan Gregg as GIS specialist for the city. While Woolpert gathered points on the initial set of manholes, Gregg organized the original CAD drawing files. The city?s GIS already included the beginnings of a utility layer, however, the data was extremely inaccurate. A seasoned employee of the city indicated manhole locations on a base map from memory.

Gregg?s primary responsibility was to implement a system that would accommodate the needs of the city engineers and planners while enveloping the infrastructure maintenance needs of the public works operations division. This included complying with current city GIS standards. The operations division needed tools to efficiently schedule maintenance and rehabilitation activities, and analyze system performance. The city planners and engineers needed a utility map for accurately planning proposed city developments.

Another goal for Reaves was to implement a parts inventory and work order system to enhance management of the public works operations division. Gregg recognized an infrastructure database that would store all of the attribute data necessary to complete the GIS system. She wanted the ESRI ArcView project to link to an external database. She researched such software and presented several choices to the wastewater managers. The consensus chose GBA Master Series Public Works and Water Resources Infrastructure Management Software Suite, developed in Lenexa, Kan.

?This software package was chosen because of its comprehensive nature,? Gregg said. ?It can handle infrastructure inventory of manholes and pipes, plus the added capabilities of a work order system, parts inventory management and field data collection from the city?s WinCan TV system.? The television system is used for inspecting lateral and mainline pipes. In addition, the infrastructure management software worked well with a variety of data types (ArcView, ARC/INFO and CAD files) to complement the system approved by the management team. The GBA GIS Toolkit, an extension of ArcView GIS, provides automated programming for translating automated map drawing files into ArcView shapefiles while populating attribute data into the database from the drawing file.

Once everything was in place, Gregg and a GIS team went to work.

?Our project has been extremely efficient because of the contributions from the surveyors who came from the city engineering office,? Gregg said. ?Experience in field data collections provides a solid foundation for surveyors involved in similar projects.?

She added that they have the ability to translate and project information from two-dimensional sources, such as plotted documents, into three-dimensional field observations. Prioritizing data collection and map drawings was a starting place for the group to begin the massive project.

In order to meet the GASB 34 asset reporting requirements, the city chose to first complete the gravity and force mains. Each pump station area plot included roads and buildings. The group labeled manholes with available GPS coordinates. The area is sketched utilizing the engineering office as-builts and site plan drawings. Manholes requiring GPS coordinates were noted, as well as areas in question resulting from gaps in the as-built drawings. Digital drawings produced in AutoCADMap replaced the sketches. After reviewing the document, field crews receive a freshly plotted document to note GPS coordinates and flow discrepancies. Final AutoCADMap edits resulted from crew notes.

The GBA GIS Toolkit synchronizes data consistency between ESRI shapefiles, AutoCADMap and the infrastructure management database. The Toolkit processes the automated drawing file, populates certain attribute data into the GBA Master Series database and creates a shapefile linked to the data stored in GBA Master Series database software. Concluding the map/generation process with the Toolkit results in a GIS map linked to a comprehensive inventory, inspection and maintenance management software program.

Utilizing this procedure has enabled the city to quickly produce highly accurate, field-verified maps. ?We have relied heavily on support from various sections of the wastewater division to complete the maps,? Reaves said. It should also help with the upcoming standards. Perhaps the flexibility of this software and process will attract more surveyors and GIS-ers to the public works industry.