Tuesday, September 19, 2017 Elyria 73°


City pilot program uses satellite technology to map utilities


ELYRIA — Drivers use dashboard-mounted GPS units to get to a restaurant, store or hotel room for the night.

The city of Elyria plans to use the same basic technology over the next few years to help workers pinpoint locations of manholes, water mains and so on to make needed repairs and plan in a faster, more efficient manner.

Locating utilities is the ultimate goal of the mapping project, which is being tested during a two- to three-day pilot project, according to City Engineer Tim Ujvari.

“The idea is to use this to know exactly where hydrants or water mains are,” as well as storm sewers in an effort to increase the means of maintaining the community’s infrastructure, Ujvari said.

“We can locate where lateral lines are, along with manholes and catch basins, without having to rifle through a lot of old plans,” Ujvari said.

The mapping project uses a more refined version of well-established GPS navigation technology found in millions of vehicles.

The method is a geographical information system or GIS, which employs satellites to pinpoint underground utilities and utility connections.

“It’s much more accurate,” Ujvari said. “Five to six years ago, we were lucky to get within 2 to 3 feet (of a water valve or manhole cover). This is cutting-edge technology that can identify and locate fixtures such as water distribution valves within a six-inch radius.

“It is the greatly increased accuracy that is the advantage here.”

A crew of a half-dozen city workers and officials from the Columbus-based Operator Training Committee of Ohio spent Tuesday in downtown Elyria, including Ely Square.

They used devices resembling hand-held TV remote controls affixed to poles topped by mushroom-looking discs which link to available satellites.

If purchased, the units would cost $5,000 apiece, Ujvari said.

The group is working under a $1,500 contract with the consulting firm, which approached the city with the idea for a pilot program that will show what the devices can do, according to Ujvari.

“We’re concentrating in the center of the city and working our way out,” Ujvari said.

Once the mapping is fully developed, city workers and supervisors of work crews could bring up pre-programmed information on infrastructure connections and fixtures via iPads or other electronic devices.

“There will be specific coordinates available, so people can walk right to where a problem is,” Ujvari said.

This is a far cry from the days when city workers would dig for hours or longer to locate a broken water main, only to find they were in the wrong spot.

“If you have the location at your fingertips, you can immediately go there,” Ujvari said.

Data gathered during Tuesday’s initial downtown survey will be entered into computers in the city Engineering Department.

“This way we can show Council what we can generate in the future,” Ujvari said.

Although the GIS is first being used by the Engineering Department, it could serve the same purpose for other departments.

“It could be a comprehensive tool for everybody in the city,” Ujvari said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.

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