City Develops System to Prioritize Its Stormwater Capital Projects

Stormwater Management

The process of inventorying and prioritizing the City of Columbus, Ohio's stormwater capital improvement projects was a comprehensive undertaking. The process was designed in order to minimize subjective factors and to result in a rational, equitable and consistent method for prioritizing these projects. This inventory method was necessary to obtain updated information on a backlog of dozens of long-standing projects and several new projects.

The process began when the City's Division of Sewerage and Drainage enlisted the help of a local engineering firm, Evans Mechwart Hambleton & Tilton, Inc., and began a detailed investigation and analysis of its stormwater problems. The Mayor of Columbus, Gregory Lashutka, and the Director of the Department of Public Utilities, James Joyce, were both instrumental in the decision to proceed with the investigation. This investigation and analysis included the following activities.

Public Meetings
Twenty public meetings were held throughout the city over a period of two months to gain citizen input on stormwater problems in their neighborhoods. The meetings were organized with the cooperation of local civic associations and area commissions.

Public Surveys
A survey questionnaire was developed to solicit detailed information from the public on their stormwater concerns. These surveys were distributed at the public meetings and to the leaders of many local civic associations and area commissions. Through the meeting and survey process, 18 new stormwater capital improvement projects (CIPs) were identified.

Background Investigation
To gain a full understanding of the stormwater CIPs, site inspections were conducted; thousands of Sewer Maintenance Center complaint records were reviewed; staff from the Division of Sewerage and Drainage, the Division of Engineering and Construction, and the Division of Economic Development were interviewed; and all existing filing and design reports related to the CIPs were reviewed.

Prioritization Criteria Development Committee
To identify the criteria to be used in prioritizing the stormwater projects, a 16-member Prioritization Committee was established. This committee consisted of several civic group leaders, representatives from various City of Columbus departments, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, and the Franklin County Engineer's Office. The committee assisted the City in identifying 12 different criteria (see page 24) to be used when evaluating stormwater projects. The committee also established weights and ranges for each criteria, giving greater weight to the more significant criteria.

Prioritization Criteria
The 12 criteria are, in order of importance, health and safety, number of people affected, damage, size of area directly affected, frequency of the problem, economic development impact, environmental impact, number of years problem has existed, investment protection of the stormwater system, condition of the stormwater system, leverage of dollars, and the City's responsibility or obligation to correct the problem.

Development of Prioritized CIP List
The prioritized list of stormwater projects was developed ranking projects based on a benefit-to-adjusted- cost ratio. A benefit index was developed based on the 12 criteria. Project costs were estimated, then adjusted to eliminate a bias towards low cost projects. The benefit index was divided by the cost to arrive at a prioritization index. The higher the prioritization index, the higher the project's rank. The result was a ranking of projects that gave the most benefit to the citizens for the amount of taxpayers dollars expended.

The entire inventory and prioritization process took approximately 15 months. The 1995­p;1999 capital improvement plan was developed using the new system. Work on the prioritized list of CIPs is scheduled to begin after the stormwater

projects already in progress are complete.d Since the City has already committed to these current projects, it is necessary to continue work on them. Later this year, the City will begin the process of starting the design phase of the highest priority projects.

The stormwater project prioritization system will be updated annually to incorporate new projects and new information related to previously identified projects and new information related to previously identified projects. The City of Columbus, Ohio, now has a rational, equitable and consistent method for prioritizing its stormwater projects.

About the Author:
Angela R. Tickle is a project engineer for the City of Columbus, Ohio, Division of Sewerage and Drainage, Stormwater Programs.

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