In the U.S. and many parts of the world, road and highway systems act as essential lifelines to move people, goods, and services. But as citizens drive down their local interstate or catch the bus across town, it can be all too easy to feel the pain points of traffic and an occasional pothole.
Nevertheless, the work to build and maintain this vast network of transportation systems is as critical as it is laborious. Infrastructure construction teams across the country are working day and night – behind road barriers and even underground – to provide needed roads and highways safely and efficiently. But managing this work can be grueling, to say the least. It’s challenging to connect large teams across distances and coordinate with (often) fragmented data and information. As a result, projects are frequently delayed, over budget, or wasteful.
But road and highway construction is only increasing. The Worldwide Economic Forum forecasts $97 trillion is needed in infrastructure spending by 2040 but predicts only $79 trillion will be invested, causing an $18 trillion gap in infrastructure investment. This $18 trillion gap is compounded by an increase in the global population of two billion and 68% of the world’s population living in urban areas by 2050.
The good news is that governments and infrastructure firms have been recently stepping up to provide leadership when it comes to delivering critical road and highway projects. In addition to new technology initiatives and mandates from local organizations, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has outlined a strategic plan with a mission to ensure America has the safest, most efficient, and modern transportation system in the world.
Highlighting insight from the strategic plan, as well as successful initiatives in road and highway construction, take a look at our infographic below that outlines some of the leading strategies and innovations needed to meet future demands. Below, we also dig deeper into how we get there, including the specific construction technologies that allow infrastructure teams to deliver safe, high-quality, and efficient projects.
Keeping transportation systems safe is a key priority for roads and highways construction teams. According to the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for 2018, large-truck related fatalities increased by 0.9%. While overall highway fatalities decreased by 2.4% in 2018, teams strive to build the safest roads possible.
To date, building information modeling (BIM) software can be applied to transportation projects, namely when it comes to reducing fatalities and injuries. By capturing, monitoring, and assessing the data, improvements can be made when it comes to traffic flow, thereby leading to improvements in safety: less congestion, enhanced procurement, and better overall safety all benefits the entire construction team and end-users. What’s more, BIM can help identify infrastructure that needs improving or replacing and streamline projects in a way that conserves costs and reduces error.
In addition to building safer roads, keeping road and highway construction teams safe at work is a key priority for firms. Beyond the traditional dangers of jobsites, these projects are often in remote locations and oncoming traffic creates additional hazards.
To help keep teams safe, companies should aim to standardize and digitize their safety and quality programs with construction technology. Software like PlanGrid can help teams create templates and custom forms and checklists for RFIs, daily reports, punchlists, and more. By keeping everyone up to date with jobsite activity and inspections, right from their mobile devices, the entire project team is empowered to identify, report, and manage issues in real time.
As an example, with VDOT, Whitman, Requardt & Associates utilized PlanGrid when building I-95 in Virginia. When driving through the jobsite on his way home, Leonard Coleman, P.E., Associate for Construction Management Services at WRA, conducts his own inspection using the software, “I’m looking at everything under the moon, not only including the road, but around the jobsite. If anything looks unsafe, whether for my folks, the contractor, or the traveling public, I stop on the side of the road and I get the contractors’ attention.”
Accessibility and Efficiency
The DOT estimates that nearly two-thirds of all U.S. highways are in less than good condition, and that about a quarter of all bridges currently need significant repair. Hence, there needs to be a substantial investment in roads and highways to ensure accessibility and efficiency (not to mention safety).
The good news is that today’s connected construction software can help enable more consistent infrastructure builds. Interactive, or “living,” as-builts can be created quickly, saved in the cloud, and shared among other professionals. In building construction, this data is used to share plans, markups, photos, and more data to streamline repairs and renovations when it’s in the hands of facility and maintenance teams.
In the coming years, infrastructure construction teams will have increasing pressure to deliver roads and highways projects, with fewer resources. Adopting innovative solutions and cutting-edge technology is key to meeting current and future infrastructure demands and solving complex problems.
Take, for instance, the fact that many roads are deteriorating faster today because of increased freight tonnage. It’s a bit of a catch 22: Do you put more freight into trucks to make fewer trips, potentially straining roads? Or do you transport less on more trips, further straining your wallet? The former will almost always be chosen. However, considering how freight tonnage is expected to increase by about 40% by 2045, the premature wear and tear on roads and other infrastructure has the potential to be severe. One solution is to make roads stronger and more durable.
Another solution is to administer sensors and tap into the Internet of Things (IoT). Sensors work to analyze data to assess patterns and other signs. From assessing these variables, solutions can be delivered in real-time to delegate and prioritize maintenance. Such technology can enable workers to be more proactive than reactive in evaluating potential issues, leading to cost savings and less interruption.
Capital projects are notoriously complex and challenging to deliver. It’s estimated the average project is some 20 months behind schedule. Furthermore, the vast majority of capital projects–80% to be exact– are over budget.
Many road and highway teams still rely on paper plans and disconnected technology like Excel. As a result, getting updates to the field and communicating changes can often create costly delays. If field teams don’t have what they need to work, they will often sit idle and waste time and money. With paper plans, printing and shipping changes can also take days or weeks. With horizontal job sites spanning several miles, teams may have to drive for hours just to deliver updated plans.
Embracing full-scale digitization – utilizing connected cloud platforms – across the construction lifecycle can help eliminate tedious paperwork, improve communication, and coordination and permit real-time sharing of documents and other vital project information. Going digital decreases rework, enhances efficiency, and ultimately helps improve productivity and profitability as well.
An Intersection: An Innovative DOT in Action Improving America’s Infrastructure
DOT has made some incredible strides that have already brought technology and innovation to roads and highways projects. Here are some of the most impactful projects in recent history:
- In 7-year ROI study, FHWA found that inspectors collected 2.75X more data with e-construction and construction partnering.
- WisDOT calculated that it would have saved $9.5 million on a project if 3D modeling had been used during the planning stages.
- Maine DOT used prefabricated concrete deck panels and high-performance concrete connections for a bridge project–completing the project 78 days faster than with traditional methods.
How to Get Started Improving Road & Highway Construction
Building trust is a sure-fire way to increase the adoption of new technology. “You can’t just throw new technology over the fence and expect it to be adopted,” says Jen Jewett, Business Analyst and Innovations Project Manager at Montana DOT (MDT), in a session at the recent AGC Convention in Las Vegas.
Jewett is facilitating change throughout the industry and her department to drive improved communication and collaboration on projects that involve cross-functional disciplines from design, civil engineering, and construction. For MDT, the implementation of BIM technology to ensure proper data sharing was rolled out in a phased approach:
- Phase One: Aligning on vision — What are your goals? Consider standards and methodologies that support your digital strategy.
- Phase Two: Piloting — Evaluate different software/platforms that support your vision and strategy. Get buy-in internally from teams before adopting technology.
- Phase Three: Standardizing processes — Create a single source of truth for model data across stakeholders – from designers to the field workers – to collaborate and communicate throughout the project lifecycle.
- Phase Four: Training — To ensure a successful roll-out of BIM technology, provide training for project managers, field workers, and consulting/contracting partners.
“Ask questions. Look at ways to do things differently,” says Jewett. “That’s what drives innovation and how you find faster, better ways to approach the work that’s always been done.”
The change in workflow has helped augment the skills of the MDT team, leading to projects being delivered on time and on budget.
Delivering the Roads & Highways Our World Deserves
Road and highway construction is showing no signs of slowing down in the future. Today more than ever, infrastructure builders need to embrace the right tools and strategies to build more productively and collaboratively to meet project demands. Whether in takeoff, cutting rough grade, or potholing, learn how Autodesk Construction Cloud connects teams, workflows, and data. Levering the technology across the lifecycle of road and highway projects, contractors, consultants, and subs can win more work, ensure quality, reduce risk, deliver projects on budget and on time, and improve safety performance.
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