How the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Can Pave the Way for Change with Innovation
D+. If you received that grade on a term paper, you likely wouldn’t be happy. A D+ grade is considered below average. From this standpoint, it’s close to failing. It’s not something that anyone strives for.
However, a D+ is the letter grade the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has given to the current state of infrastructure in America in an every-four-year assessment the group performs. Think of it this way: The roads you drive on and the bridges you cross are below average, barely passing, not something necessarily worth celebrating.
America’s infrastructure isn’t just concerning from a safety standpoint, but from an economic one as well. In fact, the ASCE says that the quality of the infrastructure system can either help or hurt economic productivity via transportation costs, delivery status and utility access.
The current infrastructure status is projected to cost $3.9 trillion against the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), and take responsibility for $7 trillion in lost business sales and 2.5 million lost jobs by 2025.
From a household standpoint, ASCE states that families are projected to spend nearly $3,500 a year from 2016 to 2025 because of infrastructure deficiencies. Couple all of this with the fact that the annual investment gap for surface transportation is on the rise ($91 billion to $110 billion just through 2025), and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the United States. It also gives you an idea of just how vital it is to invest in quality infrastructure.
The good news is that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has outlined a strategic plan from 2018 to 2022 with a mission to ensure America has the safest, most efficient and modern transportation system in the world. Nevertheless, the DOT has a long ways to go just to get out of ASCE’s dreadful “D” rating.
One way the DOT can streamline the success of its program is by onboarding–and utilizing–technology faster. Here, we take a closer look at how various new-age construction technologies can help the DOT achieve infrastructure safety, accessibility and efficiency, innovation and accountability. But first, take a look at (and share) our infographic that outlines our discussion, below.
According to the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, nearly 37,500 motor vehicle fatalities occurred in 2016, marking an increase of 5.6% from 2015. This isn’t an ideal trajectory, and it’s especially concerning when you consider that vehicles overall have become significantly safer in recent years.
To date, building information modeling (BIM), software is most closely associated with building construction projects. However, this technology can also be applied to transportation, namely when it comes to reducing fatalities and injuries.
The big advantage of using BIM software to revolutionize America’s infrastructure safety is for all the data it’s able to capture. 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 is BIM can help identify infrastructure that needs improving or replacing and streamline projects in a way that conserves costs and reduces error.
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. Think of it this way: U.S. highways aren’t even at a D+ letter grade, they’re at a solid “D.”
Only 75% of bridges would have a passing grade.
Hence, there needs to be a significant investment in America’s infrastructure to ensure accessibility and efficiency (not to mention safety).
The good news is that today’s interactive construction software can help enable more consistent infrastructure builds. Interactive “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.
Any time there’s a current issue with a technology, the industry or, in this case, infrastructure, usually, one of the keys is developing innovative solutions or adopting cutting-edge technology to help resolve the problems at hand. With the current near-failing state of America’s infrastructure, innovative solutions are sorely needed to make matters better–not worse. And one way to make matters better is to invest in platforms and strategies that improve transportation performance.
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.
There are a few key reasons why capital projects may struggle. One, it’s estimated the average project is some 20 months behind schedule.
And secondly, the vast majority of capital projects–80% to be exact– are over budget.
Part of the reason for this is due to projects still following archaic process patterns. We’re talking paperwork, outdated technology that works in silos like Excel, lackluster communication and more that have the potential to be profit and productivity suckers. That’s where going digital can help.
Adopting a full-blown digital approach on all construction projects–let alone infrastructure ones–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
The DOT has made some incredible strides that have already brought technology and innovation to infrastructure. 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.
- With VDOT, Whitman, Requardt & Associates built I-95 in Virginia using digital collaboration tools and were able to close out 300 punch list items 5 days ahead of schedule.
Getting the Grade America’s Infrastructure Deserves
We’re at an infrastructure crossroads in America right now, and one of the ways we can help break out of it and get that D+ grade into a much better standing is to embrace–and not fear–technology.