The road to overhauling America’s infrastructure is paved with technology

When it comes to building and maintaining infrastructure, the road we took to get here will not get us where we need to go tomorrow. An influx of government funding, including the bipartisan Infrastructure Act, the US Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and various coronavirus recovery programs, provides a generational opportunity to invest in roads, bridges, airports and other infrastructure assets. It also creates a generational challenge for city, county and state governments tasked with turning America’s infrastructure dreams into reality.

According to McKinsey, construction projects are typically up to 80% over budget and taking 20% ​​longer than expected to complete. For large projects, such as highways, airports and railroads, this can mean billions of dollars and decades of delay. Even for small projects, every day and taxpayer dollars count. Layer on the unprecedented level of coordination and reporting required to leverage federal infrastructure funding, and government entities of all sizes are reeling under the weight of finding a way to take advantage of this golden opportunity while meeting all of the requirements. who accompany him.

The answer can be summed up in one word: technology. The public sector will need to rely on modern technology to build a more modern nation. Digital construction technologies have been proven to help city, county and state governments save time and money, saving weeks or sometimes months on project timelines and digitizing processes that allow them to do more while managing labor shortages.

This means moving away from paper-based construction plans instead of digital designs and embracing innovations like operator-assisted machine control on jobsites and analytics-based project and asset management software that will allow infrastructure owners and their partners to make more informed decisions for decades. come.

Reduce the reporting burden

A significant challenge facing cities, states and counties is the cascade of government agencies that have a role in allocating funds for infrastructure projects and therefore expect a high level of transparency and reporting on how these funds are spent. In many cases, funds for a single project may come from multiple sources, all of which have specific requirements. Cities and counties are often unaccustomed to this level of reporting complexity and, in general, are not equipped to provide such sophisticated tracking and reporting.

Fortunately, today’s project management solutions have the ability to manage even the smallest capital improvement programs, track operating and maintenance costs, track funding sources, and report to government, federal and other agencies. City, county and state governments that expect to receive federal infrastructure funding, but still use spreadsheets to track projects and costs, should look now for a project management solution more modern and feature-rich that also streamlines reporting.

Crossing the digital design divide

Just as spreadsheets won’t do today’s work, neither will project plans on paper. Designing and building digital buildings is the way of the future – and when it comes to spending federal government money on infrastructure, the future is now.

Digital as-builts, which are data-rich 3D models of a road, bridge, port, railway or any other infrastructure asset, allow all project stakeholders to work on the same model, in real time. This includes city, county and state engineers, architects, contractors and building owners who will benefit the most from an accurate 3D representation of the finished project.

Unlike paper plans that are rolled up, tossed and handed over, having a “digital twin” of a project means that all stakeholders can see changes in real time, and the information is fed to project management systems, reporting finance and asset management, which tracks everything from inventory and materials to schedule, budget and meeting sustainability goals.

Additionally, the digital twin will play a critical role throughout the lifecycle of the infrastructure asset, as it allows asset managers and maintainers to accurately inspect and visualize the evolution asset condition over years and decades, predict future conditions and optimize work planning to meet owner financing, regulatory and return objectives. Ultimately, using digital building technologies early on in a project can result in substantial long-term time and cost savings for cities, counties, and states throughout the lifecycle of a project. the infrastructure asset.

The use of digital construction is so significant that in addition to funding the projects themselves, the federal government is also funding the adoption of digital construction technology. Through programs such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and Every Day Counts, Departments of Transportation (DOTs), in particular, have access to funds for the sole purpose of trying out proven but underutilized digital building technologies. .

Prioritize project and asset management

Our calculations on the back of the napkin, backed up by decades of work with DOTs and other agencies, show that approximately 80% of the cost of an infrastructure construction project lies in the ongoing maintenance of that asset. , making it vital for city, county and state governments to adopt technology solutions that allow owners to manage the entire lifecycle of their assets, from design, to construction, to through maintenance and rehabilitation, all via a digital constructible model.

Today’s asset management solutions, which include purpose-built software for managing roadways, bridges, signs, signals, facilities and other infrastructure assets, do this and more by helping contractors unify their data sources and information sharing between departments. Now, instead of having one department for building and updating an asset, another for maintaining the asset, and yet another for tracking, reporting, and processing expenses related to that Active separately, each department is connected to the other through a common digital management solution that allows them to share consistent information in one place. This means cities, counties, and states can become much more efficient by eliminating redundant work tasks and information gaps that occur with traditional project transfers between siled teams.

Now is the time for government entities that manage and maintain existing infrastructure assets with a bespoke, manual, spreadsheet-heavy process to consider adopting a more sophisticated asset management system.

Adapt technology to project requirements

A recent report from the Dodge Construction Network shows that nearly 60% of construction project owners, including city, county and state governments, report frequent breakdowns in communication between themselves and external construction team members. project. Because digital tools can help bridge the communication gap between project teams, more than two-thirds contractually require contractors to use at least some digital practices.

This includes the use of digital design and construction tools, connected project management software, and the use of technologies such as 3D milling and paving control on site, which help all building owners of the public sector to work from a common source of information and data. , allowing them to complete projects more efficiently, faster, safer, cheaper and more sustainably.

The more cities, counties and states can incorporate technology into their project requirements, the better we will be able to achieve our nation’s infrastructure goals, as technology offers a wide variety of benefits to project owners. of the public sector and to taxpayers, including considerable time and cost savings. From adopting digital construction plans to integrating project and asset management software across departments, technology is essential to update and modernize today’s infrastructure projects, enabling local and state governments to design, build and maintain infrastructure that will be more affordable, efficient and resilient for decades to come. to come.

Cyndee Hoagland is Senior Vice President of Public Sector at Trimble, where she is responsible for the strategic direction and execution of the company’s technology serving the owner and public sector markets and major infrastructure projects. For more information on Trimble solutions for the public sector, visit infrastructure.trimble.com.

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