According to the US Chamber of Commerce, our nation’s infrastructure is in serious disrepair. We’re talking roads, bridges, airports, railroads, energy, water delivery, and sewer systems. In a February 2019 report, the Chamber advocates investing in infrastructure improvements sooner rather than later and encouraged the enactment of a federal infrastructure modernization plan.
The construction industry has come a long way since the first telegraph poles were strung in the mid-1800s, cast-iron water delivery systems were buried in the early 1900s, and rural electrification commenced in the late 1930s. Nonetheless, as pointed out in the Autodesk roundtable report, “Getting Infrastructure Done,” much of it is still “business as usual.” Because most of the US infrastructure is nearing the end of (or already beyond) its useful lifespan, it’s time for the construction industry to shine.
With the advancements in transportation alone, the solution may not be to simply replace aged infrastructure. Aside from deteriorating bridges, potholes and broken water mains, there is also an electric grid that’s vulnerable to cyberattack. Since this nation’s infrastructure undergirds economic growth and enables our quality of life and prosperity, it’s important to upgrade what we have and make ready for the next two hundred years.
Considering the rapidly changing forms of infrastructure, business is anything but usual. Electric cars, augmented reality, the Internet of Things, and autonomous vehicles will require changes in the visage of our infrastructure going forward. As described in the PwC Global report, “Six technologies that are transforming infrastructure,” drones are in use today managing maintenance of existing infrastructure and monitoring construction and rehab projects. 3D printing can be used to create parts onsite for power infrastructure repairs, and it could make possible the melting down and recycling of infrastructure in the future. Digitally supported smart cities and energy grids are enabling advances in power storage and the use of renewable resources. Yet there’s still work to be done. The broadband networks in place don’t cover all of rural America. Water treatment facilities are vulnerable. The transportation system wasn’t designed to accommodate electric cars, autonomous vehicles and cars that fly. One software product that promises to be there as new infrastructure is developed to accommodate future needs is AutoCAD Civil 3D. Using a land use mix of geometry, parcel boundaries and data-rich content, Civil 3D enables intelligent infrastructure planning.
Regulatory issues, like permitting, can slow down any project. And issues don’t always hinge on the complexity of the project, but rather on how succinctly the owner can illustrate that all codes and safety regulations have been planned for and will be adhered to. Permitting issues can be mitigated by the use of digital tools, for instance Autodesk Revit and Autodesk BIM 360. Building information modeling optimizes the building permit process by providing a way to extract geometric and non-geometric information to evaluate code compliance, then document and visualize that. The shared-knowledge foundation of BIM enables automated plan review to expedite the permit decision process.
Financing and funding of infrastructure can be complicated topics. Financing is the money that’s borrowed to build a project and needs to be paid back (for instance through municipal bonds). Funding is the cost of the project throughout its useful life (money that doesn’t have to be paid back). Both sources of money remain a key challenge to delivering infrastructure projects – whether they are maintenance-related or capital improvements. In addition to the historical funding standbys of taxes and user fees, alternative methods being discussed by industry leaders include crowdfunding and public-private partnerships (PPPs).
In the pursuit of improving and upgrading the nation’s infrastructure, a cohesive plan is needed with participation by all the players: public, political, financial, and construction. Only about two-thirds of today’s architectural, engineering and construction firms have integrated technology such as BIM for planning, designing, constructing, and maintaining infrastructure. Considering the reputation BIM has earned for helping companies deliver projects faster, safer and more cost-effectively, collaborative technology is one way to build momentum in pursuit of the daunting infrastructure tasks that are ahead of us.
To learn about how your company can put Civil 3D, Revit or the BIM 360 family of products to work, contact Applied Software today. Through a quick discovery call, an Applied BIM expert can help you determine which solutions best fit your company’s individual needs.