The infrastructure buildout will be paperless
Digitizing construction management will help agencies save money, improve collaboration and transparency, enhance roadway safety and ease reporting.
Information technology will play a bigger role in state and local government agencies as they manage new infrastructure projects and funding, an expert predicts.
“The volume of projects we’ll see will become even more massive, which means the data that’s going to have to be managed will be even more massive,” said Cyndee Hoagland, senior vice president for Trimble’s Public Sector and Enterprise Accounts. “IT departments will be critical in achieving digitization.”
Two laws in particular are driving the changes: the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), which the White House calls “the largest ever investments in broadband, rail and transit, clean energy, and water,” and the American Rescue Plan Act, which “provided over $350 billion in critical resources to every state, county, city, and unit of local government to support their response to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” including broadband infrastructure.
Under BIL, the Biden administration has so far allocated more than $110 billion in funding for 4,300 projects affecting 3,200 communities nationwide, according to a May 16 fact sheet. The White House published a technical assistance guide May 18 “to help state, local, tribal and territorial navigate, access and deploy infrastructure resources” in accordance with BIL.
Technologies that Hoagland sees supporting efforts to digitize construction efforts include digital workflows; common data environments (CDEs), in which teams can work off the same set of data; and building information modeling (BIM). The U.S. Transportation Department defines BIM as “a collaborative work method for structuring, managing, and using data and information about transportation assets throughout their lifecycle.”
DOT and the Federal Highway Administration are working to help state and local agencies with their digital efforts. FHA’s Every Day Counts (EDC) is a state-based model that identifies and deploys proven but underused innovations to cut project delivery times, enhance roadway safety and integrate automation. Last June, DOT published “Advancing BIM for Infrastructure,” a road map for state and local departments of transportation.
“One of the fundamental advantages of digital delivery … is that it enables the project stakeholders to collaborate in ways that are facilitating efficiency and transparency of what’s going on during each of those processes in a project,” Hoagland said. “The benefits of this digital project delivery are these integrated workflows that enable the information to flow from various stakeholders to designers to engineering firms to contractors to the operators, because it means the data has to be shared more openly -- it has to be reviewed more often to make sure that we don’t have errors.”
She pointed to a project Trimble did with the Minnesota DOT (MnDOT) on a bottlenecked 3-mile section of Highway 169 in Elk River. It was designed and delivered paperlessly to MnDOT using a 3D model and a CDE. That process shaved $10 million off the design phase alone because crews could identify issues early on, which also shortened design time, Hoagland said.
“Now they’re going into the construction phase. So now the contractor … has the digital design from the design team and MnDOT. They’re leveraging 3D technology to watch the progression of the project in the digital model,” she said.
A study released in February by Dodge Data and Analytics and Trimble found that 66% of those who use digital workflows in construction said they have better informed decision-making on their projects.
To become more digital, Hoagland said, state and local transportation departments just need to ask for the data they want because contractors collect it. What’s more, digital deliverables must start to be included in contracting, and IT teams should look to vendors that use industry standards such as the International Foundation Classes, a standard for BIM file formats that means they can be read and edited by any BIM software.
Digitization also supports the reporting and compliance requirements that typically accompany grants and funding.
Sarah Schacht, a data consultant and member of the Planning Commission in Oak Harbor, Washington, said reporting can be difficult for local governments and that the federal government could facilitate it, also through digitization.
“When local governments are trying to get data or information back to the federal government, it’s a pretty onerous process and requires a lot of staff time and management,” Schacht said. “The vast majority of municipalities in the United States have very small, chronically undertrained IT workforces.”
She said two things need to happen to make reporting easier: the federal government needs to build an easy ingest process for localities providing data, and processes must be designed for the least-resourced users.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.
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