Wednesday, June 23, 2021. It’s 11:50 a.m. on a beautiful summer morning in Washington, D.C. when a construction worker abruptly slams on his brakes while driving to work. He first hears a loud crack and then immediately sees a pedestrian bridge collapse just a few feet away from his car. Unbeknownst to him, moments before the collapse, the bridge was struck by a truck, causing it to become loose and eventually cave in.
It’s not often that a bridge collapses following the impact of a collision, however, investigators later learned that the bridge was in poor condition and not structurally sound, after receiving a 2.5 out of five rating, during a routine inspection a month before the collapse.
This bridge collapse is one of many in recent years. And unfortunately, the infrastructure issues in the U.S. are becoming increasingly more dangerous for everyday civilians.
The World Economic Forum now ranks the United States 13th in overall quality of infrastructure. More than 45,000 U.S. bridges, and one in every five miles of roads, are in poor condition, per the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Given these shocking statistics, President Biden recently signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
This new legislation includes $550 billion of new federal investments in America’s roads and bridges, water infrastructure, resilience, internet, and more.
GovDesignHub recently sat down with Autodesk Senior Transportation Strategy Manager- Jason Barber- and Autodesk Government Affairs Senior Manager- Kelsey Moran- to learn more about the new legislation and how it’s being applied to the future infrastructure plans.
Here’s what they had to say:
GovDesignHub (GDH): Last November, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which the White House has hailed as “a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness.” What does this law entail that will help in rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, public transport, and other critical systems?
Jason Barber: This legislation will help revitalize our infrastructure, which includes roads, highways, public transit, safe drinking water, and flood control. The legislation will reauthorize previous funding levels, however, overall there’s a 40 percent funding increase, which means that it’s the largest single investment in infrastructure in the U.S. since the 1956 Interstate Highway Act.
The new Investment and Jobs Act will not only provide financial resources for new roads, highways, bridges, and transit, but it will also aid in rehabilitating our aging infrastructure.
Kelsey Moran: I’d like to underline the concept of a “once in a generation investment.” Regarding federal investments, we won’t see this type of investment again for a very long time. For clarity, the legislation is $1.2 trillion, which included $550 billion of new funding. The remaining funds will be appropriated from existing programs.
“We build infrastructure with the expectation that it’s going to last for a very long time. And the cost of building infrastructure isn’t just on the front end of the project, it’s also included in the maintenance during the entirety of its lifecycle. So, data is critical to the future of infrastructure.” – Kelsey Moran
The funding is to be spent within five years through different programs. Much of the funding that will go to roads and highways will be dispersed traditionally through grant programs, however, through this legislation, funding will also be allocated through new programs. For example, the new funding will be used for bridges, broadband, and water infrastructure.
GDH: With the passing of the infrastructure act, there has been a lot of renewed buzz in the digital design and construction community around embracing the modernization of the AEC lifecycle. Why is now a prime opportunity for government agencies to migrate towards digital workflows and processes as it pertains to the new infrastructure law?
Jason Barber: The opportunity to migrate towards digital workflows is huge! The infrastructure industry is still undergoing a digital transformation- so we’re still using paper- which is unfortunate because information gets lost through different phases of project development.
By utilizing digital workflows, we’ll spend less time and resources recreating information. Whether you’re a designer, a builder, or an operator, digitalization will allow you to coordinate projects more efficiently. Unfortunately, the U.S. has some of the most expensive per-mile infrastructures, and digital technology will help keep some of those costs down.
Kelsey Moran: Federal agencies responsible for implementing these programs are going to be looking for the following: more effective coordination between levels of government, spending public dollars more efficiently, and building infrastructure that is resilient and helps combat climate change
We’re working with policymakers to ensure they understand the digital tools that are available to them so that they may reach their desired outcomes. Because there is so much money, and this is such a transformational project, we understand that policymakers have a lot riding on the success of these programs.
It’s also a great opportunity for public sector entities, that are competing for these funds, to stand out if they are already utilizing new technology and digital processes that can ultimately more effectively achieve the outcomes that the legislation is for.
GDH: What benefits do BIM, GIS, CAD, 3D modeling, and cloud-based platforms bring to state and local governments as they begin to realize the promise of the infrastructure plan? What differences would they notice between a modernized project lifecycle versus what has been done in the past?
Jason Barber: One benefit of the cloud is that you can collaborate with anyone, anywhere, at any time. For example, a geospatial expert in Seattle can collaborate with a BIM expert in Atlanta, on the cloud, to determine the best phasing and sequencing. By using the cloud, they can quickly make decisions, which is ultimately an efficient use of time and resources.
Kelsey Moran: During the height of COVID, we saw how important it was for teams to collaborate from anywhere online to move their projects forward. And we believe that cloud-based collaboration is going to continue to be essential to maintaining the resilience of this critical industry to our nation’s economic future.
“Based on a study by FMI, 95 percent of the data and information created and collected during designing construction is lost when it goes into operations and maintenance with an owner. So that means that all the tribal knowledge- when things are built, why it’s designed a certain way, the conflicts, the costs, the material makeup- are no longer in the hands of the people who need it.” – Jason Barber
As these projects increase in complexity and size, government officials have to be transparent to help the public understand what to expect, and effectively demonstrate the anticipated outcomes before they break ground. By maintaining transparency, there’s here’s more consensus and support for these projects and the funding, which is helpful to continue to repair the nation’s infrastructure.
GDH: With a C- grade for our critical infrastructure from the ASCE, it’s fair to assume that the funding in this bill won’t be enough to fix everything that needs repair or replacing in America. How can BIM, Construction Cloud, and other AEC solutions ensure that we’re getting the most out of every infrastructure dollar?
Jason Barber: Being able to collaborate on design accurately and efficiently and make sure that we’re not wasting money to redesign or rebuild things is critical.
BIM, GIS, and cloud collaboration will help us remain informed on how we are allocating funds. Certainly, we have a C- grade for our critical infrastructure, however, every single piece of our infrastructure doesn’t need to be an A+. An A+ is not the most effective use of this money.
The purpose of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is to ensure that we have a more functional and more resilient state of infrastructure that serves our country’s needs so that people, goods, and services can move efficiently, the backbone of a prospering society.
Kelsey Moran: There’s always going to be limited public resources for infrastructure and all the other things that the public considers important for generating economic growth in our country. Hence there will always be a need to carefully steward taxpayer dollars and get the most out of the money that is spent on these projects.
And that’s where digital solutions come into play. While it’s true that not everything needs to be repaired or replaced to an A+, there are new types of infrastructure that are becoming critical, such as broadband.
Federal funds aren’t traditionally spent on broadband, however, in the 21st century, everyone must be connected to the internet to participate in the economy. And the same goes for, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which is also new to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
GDH: How can the data generated from the design and construction of these infrastructure projects empower the more effective management and maintenance of our critical infrastructure? What tools exist to enable the data from design and construction to flow through to the management and maintenance of projects once they’re completed?
Jason Barber: Based on a study by FMI, 95 percent of the data and information created and collected during designing construction is lost when it goes into operations and maintenance with an owner. So that means that all the tribal knowledge- when things are built, why it’s designed a certain way, the conflicts, the costs, the material makeup- are no longer in the hands of the people who need it.
“Being able to collaborate on design accurately and efficiently and make sure that we’re not wasting money to redesign or rebuild things is critical. BIM, GIS, and cloud collaboration will help us remain informed on how we are allocating funds.” – Jason Barber
The owners then must investigate or relearn that information, which is both expensive and tedious. The goal to prevent data loss is to develop data environments so that operations and maintenance information is identified and maintained during the early planning and design stages.
Kelsey Moran: Having the right data in place to ultimately minimize repair and maintenance costs over the lifecycle of these projects.
We build infrastructure with the expectation that it’s going to last for a very long time. And the cost of building infrastructure isn’t just on the front end of the project, it’s also included in the maintenance during the entirety of its lifecycle. So, data is critical to the future of infrastructure.
There are so many environmental changes that affect our infrastructure, which is why there’s an even greater need for data to keep up with the infrastructure needs that we’ll see in the future.