The view of the mechanic’s area at the DPW.

An Inside Look at the Department of Public Works

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Thursday September 26, 2013

Most people associate the local Department of Public Works (DPW) with winter plowing and summer road work, but a tour around the facility led by Director of Public Works Justin Rabidoux revealed there’s a lot more behind the scenes of this efficient operation.  

City Council took their meeting on the road again last week, holding their September 16 meeting at the Albert ‘Sonny’ Audette Building.  

A comprehensive tour of the facility started in the call center, the doors of which remain locked 24/7. Fire Chief Doug Brent is the official emergency officer and oversees the double decker row of assigned phone/work stations which face flat screen TVs, to provide local and national coverage during an emergency. It is Rabidoux’s hope to hold table top exercises in the future, and staff will undergo training to prepare for serious events. When an event occurs, as in the case of Tropical Storm Irene, Chief Brent contacts the City Manager and they must agree to activate a state of emergency and open the call center room. At the conclusion of the emergency, the steps follow a reverse order. 

A view of the mechanic’s area shows an efficient array of well equipped garage bays. The city DPW has 3 full time mechanics; South Burlington School District employs two mechanics to care for the fleet of buses. All of the city’s vehicles are maintained at the garage. By October 15th, all of the vehicles will be winter ready, including 7 plow trucks, 2-3 backup trucks, and 1 road grader circa 1979. Councilor Rosanne Greco asked if Rabidoux felt he had adequate staff and supplies at the moment. “We have enough equipment and personnel to assist the City as it exists today” Rabidoux said. 

The department employs 31 individuals who provide services to maintain the city’s complex infastructure.

The outdoor portion of the tour included the covered storage area that assures plow trucks are warmed up and ready to go when storms hit, as well as the salt shed. The City uses 2,000 tons of salt each season! If residents need a little salt to sprinkle on their walkways, they can ask to fill “a small container, but not a dump truck” Rabidoux clarified. 

Intricate salt and plowing route maps line a wall, providing proof that the city has an enormous job when faced with cleanup during a storm. The City has 3 sidewalk plows and 1 loop takes 6-8 hours to complete. Often, people call and wonder where the sidewalk plow is. Rabidoux explained that it was probably there at 8 a.m., but by 4 p.m. that area of sidewalk could be completely covered again. 
Next, Rabidoux presented an overview of the public works department, including the stormwater utility program, sewer facilities, and the paving program.

Road Maintenance

Aside from plowing and salting of winter roads, maintenance of street conditions is a primary function of the department. South Burlington has 78 miles of roads which equates to 12 million feet of pavement. It is recommended that roads in the northeastern US be repaved every 15 years. If South Burlington were to begin doing this, a lot more money would need to be budgeted for this goal. Using their database of historical costs and estimates, $1.2 million per year would need to be spent in order to meet the 15 year replacement cost.  

Given budget limitations, pavement management systems are key to determining a repaving schedule. A pavement management system is “a set of tools or methods that assist decision-makers in finding optimum strategies for providing, evaluating, and maintaining, pavements in a serviceable condition over time” according to the Guide for Design of Pavement Structures. One system utilized by South Burlington’s DPW is called Micro Paver, which is the most widely used program in the world. The system does inventory, inspection, reporting, modeling, condition analysis and project planning. In addition to this system however, the DPW also uses anecdotal evidence to help prioritize their projects.  

“We’ve never just taken the printout (from Micro Paver) and gone and paved roads” Rabidoux said. 

A prediction analysis based upon current funding levels for paving projects vs. projected levels show that an increase in funding could result in more longevity of roads over time. In the first 8-12 years after a road is built, it loses about 40% of its quality. This is the time when repairs are less costly. It’s important to catch those minor repairs before the road “falls off the curve” to a point where expensive repairs are needed. 

“I don’t think we need to go out and spend millions tomorrow,” Rabidoux said, these are just things to think about in advance of budget season.”  

Wondering about repaving plans in your neighborhood? You can always keep up to date on developments with the DPW by checking the link to Public Works on the City website. A schedule of current and future paving projects can be found under ‘Paving Plan’.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent