ARCHIVED - NRC expertise to improve infrastructure assessments
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February 02, 2009— Ottawa, Ontario
NRC has teamed up with more than 45 organizations, including Engineers Canada, Infrastructure Canada and the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering, to share knowledge and expertise and to develop a new decision-support framework for the assessment, performance and management of Canada's core public infrastructure.
This consortium, known as the National Round Table on Sustainable Infrastructure, taps expertise from across Canada. Round Table experts will provide the tools and methods that allow decision-makers, owners and operators at all levels of government to assess the state of infrastructure, improve its performance, and maximize return on investment. An early phase of the Round Table initiative is supported by Infrastructure Canada through the $33-billion Building Canada plan, which represents the largest single investment made by the Government of Canada since the Second World War.
Round Table experts want to encourage harmonized and reliable assessment practices for all regions of Canada. Currently, most infrastructure assessments are done through core sampling, visual inspections and other non-destructive evaluations. However, these qualitative evaluations can be very subjective and sometimes fail to identify urgent problems that require immediate attention, such as the failure of a critical load-bearing element in a bridge or the breakdown of water-transmission mains.
"We need to find ways to improve the reliability of infrastructure assessments," says Dr. Zoubir Lounis, who leads the concrete structures group at the NRC Institute for Research in Construction (NRC-IRC) in Ottawa. "The tools that we use today are not adequate."
Infrastructure evaluation creates technical and financial challenges for most municipalities and provinces. The situation is more pressing in areas with large portfolios of aging assets, which include roads and bridges, as well as water supply, storm water, wastewater and transit systems. That's why the NRC team is developing risk-based approaches to assessing infrastructure that take into account the current condition of the assets, as well as the associated consequences of failure.
Dr. Lounis says a new formula for infrastructure assessments must also weigh public safety, health, security, socio-economic and environmental concerns. "For example, structural problems with a deficient load-bearing bridge element could be more urgent than problems with another bridge, road or a water-main," he explains. "The consequences of a failure in the infrastructure can be catastrophic. We're going to help all levels of government make risk assessments to help them know where to intervene first."
The development of new assessment tools and technology coincides with a push by infrastructure experts that encourages municipalities to spend money more strategically, such as using longer-lasting materials during construction. Greater initial investments will help to reduce life-cycle costs, says Dr. Lounis.
He adds that new technologies, such as high-performance concrete or corrosion-resistant steels, are initially more expensive than traditional construction materials, but more economical in the long term.
"We want to encourage decision-makers to be proactive instead of reactive regarding the way they manage their core public infrastructure," says Dr. Lounis. "We would rather have them spend the appropriate amount of money on more durable systems now and limit expensive maintenance in the future."
The end result is enhanced public safety and public health, reduced long-term costs and more satisfied taxpayers, stresses Dr. Lounis.
"NRC and the National Round Table are playing an important role to help municipalities look after their assets. After all, these assets don't belong to government — they belong to everyone."
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