Fairfax County, Va., is subject to the same stormwater problems encountered by municipalities across the nation: aging infrastructure; increasingly stringent regulations; degraded streams; litter; and limited funding.

Faced with these challenges, the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services is developing a comprehensive, sustainable asset management program to effectively operate, maintain, and reinvest in its stormwater conveyance system. The new asset management program helps identify risks before failure occurs, which enables staff to prioritize maintenance and optimize reinvestment.

Prior to developing the program in the Stormwater Infrastructure Branch, service requests were generated from citizen complaints for problems such as sinkholes, blockages, flooding and erosion. “The complaints we receive give us an opportunity to assess the problems particular to stormwater,” said Branch Chief Val Tucker, P.E.

Technicians perform condition assessments through walking surveys and with pole cameras, recording findings in GIS. They’re also using CCTV cameras to obtain videos of defects within the pipes. “We find off-set joints and holes along with intrusions and unauthorized connections that must be removed,” Val said. “We see utility lines in the pipes. There are downspouts, sump pumps, and other plumbing intrusions, and there are break-ins by fence posts, guardrails, and utility poles.”

The three teams (condition assessment, closed system and open system) work together to keep stormwater flowing and to achieve water quality benefits. In addition to sediment and litter, pipe-cleaning crews find animals and tree roots in the pipes.

The county’s asset management program is achieved through:

  1. An inventory of assets (Fairfax County manages 1,300 miles of pipe, more than 62,000 storm structures, and 100 miles of improved channels and outfalls).
  2. A condition assessment of the inventory.
  3. Considering risk and prioritization: Can the operations and management investment be optimized? Is reinvestment needed, necessary or urgent?
  4. Predicting future needs and creating a funding strategy.  

As of October 2017, approximately 75 percent of the county’s pipes have been inspected and assessed. Some are in good shape, about 3 to 5 percent require attention. The remaining 25 percent are scheduled to be assessed within the next two years.

Where possible, rather than replacing pipes, staff renews them using cured-in-place pipe liner techniques, which saves time, money, and trees and disruption to adjacent properties.

Finally, using natural channel design improves water quality by reducing erosion and excess nutrients, which earns the county Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) credit toward compliance with its Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) permit. The asset management program allows the stormwater infrastructure team to proactively identify problems before they develop into safety concerns, negatively impact residents or threaten the environment.

Irene Haske
Information Officer
Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services


As communities invest in developing multi-modal transportation systems, improvements to facilities for people walking and biking can often be delayed due to the construction costs and environmental impacts of elements such as street widening to accommodate bike lanes and sidewalk construction.

As public works professionals one of our core responsibilities is to leverage our existing assets to safely and efficiently serve our communities. The question of how we allocate our rights-of-way may be our greatest opportunity to leverage existing assets to provide additional transportation services.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has developed a number of guidance documents which illustrate ways to leverage existing street space to serve people walking and biking while providing safe and convenient facilities for people driving.  Most of the treatments consist of signs and markings coupled with thoughtful design and outreach to your communities.

The first resource from FHWA, “Incorporating On-Road Bicycle Networks into Resurfacing Projects” discusses practical ways to change the configuration of streets while performing pavement preservation projects. At the City of Eugene this approach has been one of the most impactful ways of adding or improving bicycle facilities within our City.

The second resource, “Small Towns and Rural Multimodal Networks”, while created for transportation professionals in small towns and rural counties, also provides examples of treatments that may be appropriate for narrow city streets. One innovative concept known as “advisory shoulders” or “advisory bike lanes” is particularly applicable for low volume, low speed streets with good sight distance.

Advisory shoulders takes an existing narrow two-way street and allocates usable shoulder space on each side of the street ,delineated by a skip stripe, and a center lane used by two-way motor vehicle traffic. When no bicyclist or pedestrian occupies the shoulders people driving can use the shoulders to safely pass oncoming vehicle traffic.  An example of this configuration can be seen below.

While advisory shoulders are used widely in European countries such as the Netherlands they are relatively new to the United States. Currently an approved request to experiment is required from FHWA to install advisory shoulders.

This concept is further explored by Alta Planning and Design in their white paper, “Advisory Bike Lanes in North America”.

So next time you are scratching your head about how to help improve walking and biking in your community without breaking the bank, browse to these resources to find low cost best practices to help your community meet their goals to provide safe and cost effective transportation options.

Please use the links in this article to access copies of these resources at the C4S Sustainability Toolkit.

Matt Rodrigues
Chair, APWA Center for Sustainability (C4S)
Principal Civil Engineer, City of Eugene