When it comes to infrastructure construction and maintenance, the road we took to get here will not lead us where we need to go tomorrow. An influx of government funding including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, American 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 the city, county and state governments tasked with turning America’s infrastructure dreams into reality.
According to McKinsey, construction projects typically run up to 80 percent over budget and take 20 percent longer than scheduled to finish. For big projects, such as highways, airports and railways, this can add up to billions of dollars and decades of delays. Even on smaller projects, every day and taxpayer dollar counts. Layer on the unprecedented level of coordination and reporting required to take advantage of federal infrastructure funding, and government entities of all sizes are staggering under the weight of finding a way to take advantage of this golden opportunity while also meeting all the requirements that come with it.
The answer lies 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 both time and money—shaving weeks or sometimes months off of project timelines and digitizing processes that enable them to do more while managing through labor shortages.
This means ditching paper construction plans in lieu of digital designs and adopting innovations that include operator-assisted machine control on jobsites, and analytics-driven project and asset management software that will enable infrastructure owners and their partners to make better-informed decisions for decades to come.
Lifting the burden of reporting
One significant challenge that cities, states and counties are facing 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 those funds are spent. In many cases, funds for a single project can come from multiple sources, all of which entail specific requirements. Cities and counties are often not accustomed 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 capabilities to manage even the smallest capital improvement programs, keep track of operations and maintenance costs, track funding sources, and report up to state, federal and other government 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 more modern and feature-rich project management solution that also streamlines reporting.
Crossing the digital design divide
Just as spreadsheets won’t get today’s job done, neither will paper-based project plans. Digital construction design and delivery is the way of the future—and when it comes to spending federal infrastructure dollars, the future is now.
Digital as-builts, which are data-rich 3-D models of a road, bridge, port, railway or any other infrastructure asset, allow everyone across the project to work off the same model, in real time. This includes engineers, architects, contractors, and the city, county and state government project owners who stand to benefit the most by having an accurate 3-D representation of the finished project.
Unlike paper plans that are rolled up, tossed around and handed off, having a “digital twin” of a project means all stakeholders can see changes in real time, and information is fed to project management, financial reporting and asset management systems, which track everything from inventory and materials to timeline, budget and adherence to sustainability goals.
What’s more, the digital twin will serve a critical role throughout the entire lifecycle of the infrastructure asset, as it enables asset managers and maintenance leaders to accurately inspect and visualize the evolving condition of the asset over years and decades, predict future condition states, and optimize work planning to meet the owner’s funding, regulatory and performance objectives. Ultimately, the use of digital construction technologies from the outset of a project can lead to substantial, long-term time and cost savings for cities, counties and states throughout the entire lifecycle of the infrastructure asset.
The use of digital construction is so important 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 Law 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 construction technologies.
Prioritizing project and asset management
Our back-of-napkin math—corroborated by decades of working with DOTs and other agencies—shows that approximately 80 percent of an infrastructure construction project’s cost lies in the ongoing maintenance of that asset, making it vital for city, county and state governments to adopt technology solutions that enable project owners to manage the entire lifecycle of their assets—from design to construction to maintenance and rehabilitation—all through a digital constructible model.
Today’s asset management solutions, which include software specifically designed for the management of pavements, bridges, signs, signals, facilities and other infrastructure assets, do that and more by helping project owners unify their data sources and information-sharing across departments. Now, instead of having one department building and updating an asset, another maintaining the asset, and still another tracking, reporting and processing expenses related to that asset separately, each department is connected to the other by a common digital management solution that enables them to share consistent information all in one place. This means that cities, counties and states can become much more efficient by eliminating redundant work tasks and information gaps that arise with traditional project handoffs across siloed 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.
Tailoring technology to project requirements
A recent report from the Dodge Construction Network shows that nearly 60 percent of construction project owners—including city, county and state governments—report frequent breakdowns in communication between themselves and external project team members. Because digital tools can help bridge the communication gap between project teams, more than two-thirds are contractually requiring 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 technology like 3-D milling and paving control on the jobsite—all of which help public sector project owners work from a common source of information and data, enabling them to deliver projects better, faster, safer, cheaper and more sustainably.
The more that cities, counties and states can build technology into their project requirements, the better able we will be to reach our nation’s infrastructure goals, as technology provides a wide variety of benefits to public sector project owners and taxpayers alike, including substantial time and cost savings. From adopting digital as-builts to incorporating project and asset management software across departments, technology is key to updating and modernizing today’s infrastructure projects, allowing local and state governments to design, build and maintain infrastructure that will be more affordable, efficient and resilient for decades 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 about Trimble solutions for the public sector, visit infrastructure.trimble.com.