Regardless of where you live in the world, you have most likely experienced the impacts of an infrastructure upgrade, road repair, or bridge construction job that has seemingly dragged on forever and – ultimately – cost much more than originally budgeted for.
It’s certainly an issue in the U.S. – one that has even impacted the area around the nation’s capital, which has seen its fair share of out-of-control infrastructure projects. You only have to google Maryland’s infamous Purple Line light rail project to see a perfect example of a program that has literally gone off the rails. And it’s done so at an exorbitant cost to taxpayers, in this instance to the tune of approximately $800 million.
This is a problem that is virtually synonymous with large infrastructure projects, but it’s one that we shouldn’t have to simply accept.
As America’s infrastructure continues to age and gets low grades in recurring infrastructure report cards, our nation is in a position where it is required to invest heavily in roads, bridges, and utility projects. As citizens and taxpayers who are funding a lot of this, we should expect that projects will run efficiently, effectively, and with some respect for budget.
Technology could play a key role in making that happen. And the AWV – the Flemish Agency for Roads and Traffic – could provide a blueprint for how technology, specifically building information modeling (BIM) technology, can eliminate the “over budget and behind schedule” stigma that often accompanies large infrastructure projects.
A lot of responsibilities and not a lot of budget
During November’s incredible Autodesk University event, two members of the AWV, Timo Nuttens and Natasha Blommaert, joined forces for a presentation entitled, “Leading the BIM Way: Implementing BIM and Asset Lifecycle Management As a Contracting Authority in Road Infrastructure Projects in Flanders, Belgium.”
Their presentation was evidence that there is much more than incredible beer brewing in Flanders. In fact, necessity is driving immense innovation and a new approach to utilizing technology for infrastructure projects.
Where is that necessity coming from? It’s the result of a large number of infrastructure responsibilities, coupled with aging infrastructure in need of maintenance and tight budgets.
All told, the AWV is responsible for almost 7,000 KM of roads, 7,700 KM of bike paths, countless bridges, and the management of road networks and infrastructure, including electrical installations such as signs, cameras, speed controls, and traffic lights. And much of that infrastructure is aging. The AWV is increasingly turning to BIM to deliver the improved processes and efficiency necessary to meet budget and schedule requirements.
According to Natasha Blommaert, the program manager of the BIM and AIM implementation program at the AWV, “Aging infrastructure is why we’re looking to optimize and make use of modern technologies. BIM is the way and key to support road maintenance of tomorrow.”
That starts with access to uniform, accurate, and real-time data, which BIM is enabling the AWV to aggregate, verify, and store in a centralized location so that all relevant stakeholders can access it. This extends across the entire project life-cycle of the road or infrastructure project – from design to construction, to operation, to maintenance.
As Blommaert explained, “…all relevant asset management is stored in [a] structured and uniform manner that can be used for maintenance. Data is essential for the operations and maintenance of infrastructure in the decades after construction projects…good maintenance and management is based on up-to-date, [and] complete information about all physical assets…BIM lets us collect data across asset lifecycles [and] make uniform data available to those that need it at any time during the lifecycle…”
This embrace of BIM and the more readily available access to accurate data has the potential to deliver incredible benefits to the AWV as it continues to embrace the technology and process, and its vendors follow suit.
Fix it fast for less
During his section of the presentation, AWV’s BIM Manager, Timo Nuttens, laid out some of the exciting ways that BIM is projected to benefit the AWV, and most of it directly combats the habitual problems of cost and schedule overruns that often plague infrastructure projects.
By embracing BIM, all stakeholders and vendors working on an AWV infrastructure project can work together around a centralized BIM model from project conception. This allows for better collaboration with partners. It also allows for the detection of errors, risk factors, and design problems earlier in the project. By identifying those problems early, they can be mitigated sooner and more quickly – rectifying them when it’s cheaper to do so, earlier in the process.
By proactively and collaboratively solving problems in the design phase, the entire AWV faces less than expected problems during bidding and construction. That’s of enormous benefit, since changes to the project and unanticipated problems are large contributing factors to projects finishing over budget and behind schedule.
However, there is a tradeoff. As Nuttens explained during the presentation, the cost of the design phase is higher due to the extra time, communication, and effort expended during planning. However, he did state that the AWV may never see those costs, as, “…the extra cost is more than compensated [for] by the savings that we see during the execution phase – the fewer errors.”
The U.S. has been getting a barely-passing “D+” on its infrastructure report cards for years, and is in line for major infrastructure projects and spending. By taking a lesson from the AWV in Flanders and embracing BIM, Americans can ensure that necessary infrastructure projects are done more efficiently, and hopefully prevent them from hemorrhaging taxpayer dollars.
For more information about AWV and their use of BIM, watch the replay of this session at the Autodesk University Website.