Fiji Roads CEO Neil Cook. File Photo.
8 August, 2014 Much of the work being done to upgrade Fiji’s transport infrastructure is starting to become very noticeable. Roads are repaired, new seal is laid, potholes are fixed, new bridges are built, or old ones given new life. Crossings that have been inaccessible, sometimes for years, begin to open up. Jetties that provide vital access for goods, services and people are able to safely welcome ships again. Culverts or flood-prone bridges that would once have ground life to a halt when they were swept away in floods are reinforced or rebuilt, better and stronger than before.
Heavy machinery, hard hats, high-viz vests, stop/go signs and detours are day-to-day signs that things are happening. Brand new, or good-as-new transport routes emerge – making life easier, healthier and more productive for tens, hundreds or even thousands of people.
While all that visible work is going on, one very important Fiji Roads Authority (FRA) project is taking shape mostly behind the scenes.
The Asset Management System (AMS) project is one of the most important systems Fiji will have to help FRA keep tabs on when infrastructure elements might need attention, and what sort of condition they are in. It will also help the government to budget, knowing how much money needs to be put aside to keep things in good shape in the future.
The project is locating every single transport ‘asset’ in the country – roads, bridges, jetties, crossings, street lights, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and the land attached to them – mapping and putting information about each one into a database so their condition can be logged and monitored.
“When the FRA was established, there was real fragmentation around ‘who did what’ for the country’s transportation routes,” explains FRA’s Dale Nicholls. “You can’t take care of things that you don’t even know belong to you. It is also hard to track the condition of your infrastructure assets if you don’t have a system around it.”
Talk to any of the engineers or planners involved in the massive infrastructure overhaul currently underway in Fiji, and you will hear the word ‘asset’ a lot. It’s a standard roading term for the individual elements that make up the system, reflective of the large investment that goes into building or repairing them and making sure they stay in good shape. It is the road network assets, which in the wider sense of the term, are a true investment for their end users.
The man heading the AMS project, Conway Pene, is based at MWH Global, the engineering firm leading the whole infrastructure upgrade on behalf of the Fiji Roads Authority.
Conway leads a team of Field Surveyors and Data experts, as the AMS project evolves. He also works together with the FRA, government departments, utility operators and other organisations to ensure a range of data is integrated to build up a comprehensive picture of infrastructure and activities.
Although he is a geographer by profession and spends most of his time in front of a computer screen, sometimes getting the information he needs means getting out there and seeing it for himself.
“Before this project, there just wasn’t good information available, especially about many of the more remote areas of the country. So part of it has been actually driving the roads, especially in the North and West, to collect as much information as we can. Sometimes it is as simple as road names. For example, we have come across roads that are known under five different names, and none of them was the official one. ”
The AMS team has found bridges, roads and jetties that didn’t appear on a map or maintenance plan anywhere, and that had fallen into a gap between the various agencies that were responsible for them.
“Some work was started on asset management by the government 15 years ago, but rarely updated, and with responsibilities unclear. Between the old Department of National Roads, Municipal Councils and the bodies managing rural roads, things just got lost,” Conway says.
The centralised AMS system will ultimately ensure that what exists is known about, the work that needs to be done on it is logged, and once that is done, there is a plan to maintain it. Just as importantly, it will record who is responsible for the ongoing work.
While the infrastructure upgrade is happening, the AMS system is also proving a valuable tool for prioritising work.
“All of the AMS is contributing to a much bigger process of data-driven decision making for Fiji – the idea that important decisions, especially those involving large sums of money, are made on all the facts. People can have confidence that priorities are right – and that money is being spent where it is most needed.”
For the average Fijian, it will mean their transport problems are as visible to decision makers as they are to them, and that the things that matter also remain front-and-centre.
“It’s not just about putting transport infrastructure on a map,” Conway says. “We are incorporating other strategic priorities, like mapping the location of all the schools and health centres and what access is like to them. Without a sealed road, or if the access bridge is regularly taken out with high waters, for example, there won’t be year-round access to schools and health care, and buses can’t run regularly.”
“When roads are closed it is important that we are able to quickly identify stakeholders and provide them with complete information on the road status. Shortly the system will be capable of quickly determining affected bus routes, schools and health centres and key industry for each section of road. This will allow FRA to greatly improve the service to its stakeholders. Eventually this will be available via the Internet to all Fijians.
The development of AMS is expected to run for the next 18 months completing database and mapping work, but its benefits will be long reaching, ushering in a new approach to policy, funding decisions and day-to-day maintenance of some of Fiji’s most precious new assets, for many years to come.
About MWH Global
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