New Braunfels, TX Taking The Easy Road With OpenGov Pavement Management Software
As one of the top 10 fastest growing cities in the U.S., New Braunfels, TX isn’t about to run out of road any time soon. But, when it comes to pavement management for its 74,000 citizens, this city just northeast of San Antonio finds itself in a constant chase to keep pace with booming growth.
Despite the population explosion, New Braunfels’ public works team has seen minimal increases in manpower over the last several years. This made it crucial for the city to find a cost-effective way to proactively maintain its 350 center-lane miles, 4,000 pavement segments, and 18,000 signs. Not only did their work and operations management software need to be a breeze for field workers and engineers to use, it had to help extend the life of their pavement by ensuring the right work was being performed at the right time.
“Before implementing OpenGov, the engineers had no real pavement management program,” recalls GIS Manager Greg Brown. “They had spreadsheets and an old Access database that ran some software, but they weren’t very confident in the results.”
“They were making budgets for city council and their numbers weren’t solid.”
“They were making budgets for city council and their numbers weren’t solid. They knew they were ‘kind of in the ballpark,’ but they were not happy with what they were getting out of it,” says Brown.
What’s more, the public works department had no central method for tracking their pavement maintenance and day-to-day work. While one crew used notecards, another used paper forms, and there was no standardized way of taking notes or coding.
“Work wasn’t updated in a timely manner. Crews would turn in their paper documents at the end of the year, and an assistant city engineer would carve out three weeks of her time to read through all the notes and try to make something useful out of it,” says Brown. “She then had to put that info into spreadsheets, the Access database, and run reports off it—which would frequently crash—and any of the calculations weren’t reliable. So, it almost was like it was a wasted effort.”
The city put out an RFP and received numerous bids back from the regular players. But, for New Braunfels, one stood out from the rest.
“A lot of people had worked with OpenGov before and we knew we didn’t need a database specialist to manage it. Everyone knew how user-friendly the software was,” says Brown. “We knew that would help with training field users, and would make everything really simple. To us, that made the choice pretty easy.”
“It’s important to be transparent because we really want citizens to understand that we have their best interest in mind.”
Since the city’s fall 2015 deployment, the impact of OpenGov has extended beyond public works. It has succeeded in keeping residents alerted on roadwork and activity that impacts their lives.
Previously, New Braunfels used a database that wasn’t map-centric and they had no spatial reference to their data. Today, the city leverages OpenGov’s two-way Esri integration for location-based analysis, and to build dashboards and interactive maps that keep city council members and citizens in the know.
The city uses one ArcGIS Online app that features a before-and-after-timeline slider. Citizens can select their pavement segment, view the current condition rating, and slide to see the improvements made to the road since 2015.
“It’s important to be transparent because we really want citizens to understand that we have their best interest in mind, and for them to know we’re working for them and not against them,” says Graduate Engineer Jeff Prato. “We feel it kind of allows them to see into our world and see everything that we’re seeing, so they’re not kept in the dark on things.”
Today, the city is formulating proactive pavement plans and has leveraged OpenGov to create efficiencies in budgeting, tracking, planning, and reporting.
To ensure new subdivision streets are properly built, New Braunfels has a 2-year bond warranty with local contractors. Through this program, the city can request corrections before they officially accept a street.
“If we forget, it’s a problem. So, we use OpenGov and ArcGIS to keep track of when those bonds expire,” Prato says. “It will flag us to do a mid-warranty inspection and again when it’s about to expire so we can check on it.”
The ArcGIS integrated tool has also helped the city save hours of warranty research. If a road needed repaired, the request would shuffle around internally, and they’d have to pull the paperwork to see who built the road. Now, they click on the road and see the info they need in seconds.
Before allocating more funds to pavement projects, city council wanted reliable data to back up the projections—and now they have it. While the city’s legacy database was only updated once a year, they’re now leveraging OpenGov’s real-time asset, work, resource, and request data to formulate decisions.
“Through the degradation curve algorithms built into OpenGov, we can predict and plan our projects out years in advance,” says Brown. “We’re able to address the needs of the pavement before it becomes an issue.”
The Scenario Builder module is a favorite among the city engineers; they’ve used the feature to back up everything from budget requests to staff increases.
“We often take the budget we have, run it through Scenario Builder, and project our pavement scores. If it comes out lower, that gives us a reason to say, ‘hey, we may need more funding to keep up with our infrastructure,’ and that encourages council to allocate more toward street maintenance,” says Prato.
“We’re able to take data and turn it into something more tangible—something we can work with, report on, and share.”
Meanwhile, field workers have become more productive than ever. Street crews are saving at least two weeks annually by using OpenGov for iPad to track their work on the go. Plus, the assistant city engineer no longer needs to do data entry, saving nearly a month of her time.
“They don’t use paper anymore; everything’s on their iPad. As they input information, it goes right to OMS where city engineers can access it immediately,” Brown says.
TRANSPARENCY + ENGAGEMENT:
New Braunfels holds an annual public survey meeting to help build their pavement plan. Before OpenGov, citizens would indicate what they’d like fixed on paper forms, and it took several days for a team of engineers to interpret and compile the information. According to Brown, 20 percent of the entries couldn’t be mapped because they were unclear.
Today, pairing OpenGov OMS and ArcGIS means the city can map citizen requests in real time. In fact, the city is moving toward an online submission form so residents can submit requests year-round.
“They don’t have to wait for the yearly meeting—they can do this on demand. It’s really helped us to work with the public more closely and gain their confidence,” says Brown. “We’re able to take data and turn it into something more tangible—something we can work with, report on, and share with other people.”
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