Keeping up with upkeep

    Brandon Jones of Pierce County Public Works Road Operations uses ArcPad to update the county’s core assets which include drainage, vegetation, pavement, and other right-of-way assets such as guardrails, bollards, fences, and gates.

    In 1853, the United States formally designated Washington Territory out of the existing Oregon Territory so that the U.S. federal government could better administrate its western region. An aspect of this reorganization was the division of the new territory into smaller legislative districts. A document from that era reads, in part, “Pierce County is not the largest in the state, but it is one of the most important; it has about 125 miles of saltwater shoreline, with many bays and inlets and several important islands. The mountains and foothills are full of coal and precious metals. The rivers, fed by the glaciers of Mount Tacoma [later renamed Mount Rainier], possess almost immeasurable waterpower.” Excluding Native Americans, the population of Pierce County, Wash., at that time totaled 513.

    Public works asset management, Pierce County, Wash.


    Pierce County, Wash., Public Works Road Operations Division

    Product application
    County uses ArcGIS and in-house development for data collection and asset management to maintain predictive models and develop annual budgets.

    To open up the West for greater access to the rich natural resources there, the Northern Pacific Railway was constructed, connecting the Great Lakes in the northeastern part of the United States with the deepwater harbor of Pierce County’s Commencement Bay on Puget Sound. The completion of the rail line in 1883 stimulated the migration of people from the eastern United States to the western territories, and the region began to grow exponentially.

    Today, Pierce County has a population of about 800,000 residents. It is 1,700 square miles in size, 1,300 square miles of which are unincorporated. With a road network of approximately 1,600 miles, the county’s Public Works Road Operations Division oversees management and upkeep including pavement condition, billboards, medians, gates, and vegetation.

    “We also keep up related roadway assets, which include network drainage structures such as catch basins, manholes, conveyance pipes, culverts, dry well systems, fish-bearing pathways, and open channels,” said Michael Isun, engineer technician, Pierce County Public Works Road Operations. “All these features are included in our asset management system, which is managed by ArcGIS. We use GIS throughout our entire operation, from data collection and asset management to maintaining our predictive models and developing our annual budgets.”

    Matt George of Pierce County Public Works Road Operations uses a telescoping measuring device to inspect, assess, and record the amount of sediment in a stormwater drainage structure.
    Mike Johnson of Pierce County Public Works Road Operations uses a Trimble GeoXH 6000 GPS unit to record attribute values for many of the county’s feature assets. Seen in this photo are two of the county’s many feature assets such as a stormwater drainage structure and guardrail along the right of way.

    Predictive models reduce asset life cycle costs
    Each year, teams of Public Works Road Operations employees visually inspect, evaluate, and record the condition of the entire roadway infrastructure in the county. The collected data is then fed into the department’s asset management system, which maintains all the data regarding the location and condition of the county’s road-related assets. The data also populates the county’s maintenance management system and drives the annual maintenance and operations schedule for the department.

    The asset management system provides managers and senior technical staff with access to all county infrastructure data. A huge benefit is that Maintenance and Operation Program managers can get a quick status review on the overall health of an asset and then take action, when necessary. Work orders can be adjusted to trigger a repair or replacement based on the department’s predictive models. For budgeting purposes, the asset management system also maintains cost-per-function (CPF) calculations. The CPF determines the total cost of labor, materials, and equipment needed to repair or replace a particular asset.

    “Over the last several years, we have collected hard data that has allowed us to significantly improve our predictive maintenance and deterioration models, which we find more efficient than the scheduled maintenance approach,” Isun said.

    The department’s predictive models are maintained by ArcGIS and include its Rating Assessment Information (RAI), which stipulates federal and state levels of maintenance standards for public works assets. The RAI contains a comprehensive collection of specifications ranging from the amount of sediment allowed in a catch basin to the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations for curb ramp slope.

    Using the predictive models helps with both the budgeting and prioritization of remedial maintenance work. The models have also helped reduce the life cycle costs for Pierce County’s road assets because they make it easier to identify assets that are potentially in need of repair or replacement. These costs include all expenditures from creation to replacement or disposal of an asset. Typically, life cycle costs include planning, design, construction and acquisition, operations, maintenance, renewal and rehabilitation, depreciation, financing, and replacement or disposal.

    A Pierce County Public Works Road Operations crew multi-tasks as they perform a targeted annual storm drainage structure cleaning with a Vactor truck along with a maintenance crew performing a needed repair to the stormwater conveyance system found during annual inspections. A work order was immediately generated when the inspection data was checked back into the file Geodatabase because the value entered into the custom ArcPad form triggered the activity.

    In-house development helps contain overhead
    “We work hard to keep our costs down, and using in-house technical staff for development is one of the key strategies we use to control spending and avoid project scope creep and budget overruns,” said Matt George, GIS programmer/engineer, Pierce County. “For example, our internal Public Works Road Operations Division did the design and programming of the database for our asset management system, as well as the creation of the custom forms we use on our ArcPad devices in the field for remote data collection. The forms work in conjunction with a check-in/out process through ArcGIS. By designing the program and implementing the work in-house, we were able to get the project started within the department more quickly, rather than stepping through the process to hire a consultant to do the work or to purchase and implement a new piece of software.”

    The department uses its maintenance technicians to collect the data for annual asset inspections. Because the technicians normally install and maintain the county’s complex roadside assets, they are very familiar with them and can perform the inspections in a quick and cost-effective manner. In addition, by being trained to collect the asset data, the technicians are not only more involved in the entire maintenance process but are also developing skills that can be applied to other employment within the department if they choose to advance their careers.

    Pierce County Public Works Road Operations uses ArcGIS to manage the county’s core assets. Drainage layers can be seen in the image along with attributes.

    The final implementation for the Pierce County public works asset management system is the deployment of an enterprise asset viewer throughout the department for easier work order management.

    “While we do a lot of our own software development, ultimately choosing a viewer that is easy to use and offers us the greatest flexibility to adjust work order parameters is the key,” George said. “Whether Road Operations decides to build a map viewer with in-house staff working with the county’s internal GIS department or purchase a third-party, off-the-shelf solution is still undetermined at this point.”

    Jim Baumann is a writer for Esri ( He can be contacted at