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Why & How U.S. DOTs are Advancing to Digital Delivery

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Dustin Parkman, Vice President of Transportation

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The roads and highways sector is at a critical juncture. Funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is starting to flow through to projects. However, there simply are not enough skilled workers available for the projects already in progress, let alone all the new ones being launched. But organizations can close that productivity gap by leveraging digital technologies to streamline processes, improve productivity, and enhance communication across the supply chain.

State departments of transportation (DOTs) can stretch this funding even further by embracing digital technologies and accelerating deployment of advanced digital construction management systems (ADCMS)—including digital 3D design software. This move allows them to do more with less in newer, more innovative ways.

However, it is important to first understand what digital delivery is and why an inclusive, open digital environment is key to making the most of these workflows.

What is Digital Delivery?

Put simply, digital delivery means using models, information, and supporting tools to help complete a project. For DOTs, it means using 3D models and data contained in a digital twin for a paperless, streamlined process, enabling collaboration across the supply chain. Because 3D models can be easily understood, they can improve project team collaboration from design through construction. Digital twins can also be used during the operations and maintenance phase to better inform teams of critical engineering information and how it changes over time, enabling team members to make better decisions.

Throughout the United States, DOTs, and their engineering contractors (ECs), are advancing toward all-digital delivery of their projects. They are going beyond creating a BIM model incorporating project information from across the organization and their supply chain. This shift is important, as ECs complete a large percentage of the work required by DOTs.

To make these advancements a reality, organizations need software that will connect everyone working on the project—from the project owner to the designer to the contractor—to a single source of truth. Organizations require access to a range of engineering file formats. DOTs can use digital twins as the robust foundation for unifying all project and asset information in one place.

Digital delivery means using models, information, and supporting tools to help complete a project. For DOTs, it means using 3D models and data contained in a digital twin for a paperless, streamlined process, enabling collaboration across the supply chain. Because 3D models can be easily understood, they can improve project team collaboration from design through construction.

Connecting People to Help Deal with Mounting Pressures

To meet workload demands, DOTs are looking to expand their supply chains by seeking out small firms, as many traditional engineering sources are already at full capacity. Many of these small firms are part of the disadvantaged business enterprises (DBE) program, which provides additional funding to minority-, veteran-, and woman-owned businesses in federally funded, transportation-related construction projects.

With these mounting pressures, many DOTs have turned to Bentley software as part of their digital delivery solution.

For example, take WSB’s work with the Minnesota DOT (MnDOT) on the Highway 169 (TH 169) roadway expansion project. MnDOT was tasked with converting a 3-mile stretch of this major corridor into a freeway system, contracting engineering firm WSB to deliver the final designs. To provide up-to-date coordination with MnDOT and general contractor Ames, WSB used Bentley’s civil suite of applications for 3D modeling, visualization, and cross-discipline collaboration. The digital twin saved significant time and money by providing highly visual meeting presentations and reducing design iterations. This project was the first time that WSB delivered a digital roadway construction plan to a client, and they saved as much as USD 18 million, developing a digital twin that MnDOT will use to support asset operations throughout its lifecycle.

Overhead view of road construction site
Design and engineering consulting firm WSB delivered a paperless roadway construction plan to their client, Minnesota DOT, which will be used to support the asset’s operations throughout its lifecycle. Image courtesy of WSB.

Then, there’s Ferrovial Construction and Alamo NEX Construction. They were awarded a project by the Texas DOT (TxDOT) in a dense urban area of San Antonio. The project required designing viaduct roads to help expand the road system to meet the city’s growing population. The engineering contractors needed to determine how to minimize the bridges’ footprint and move the frontage road to create room for the foundation. The new viaducts would overhang existing roads, requiring contractors to move traffic away from the construction due to safety concerns. ProjectWise enabled the team to share digital twins created using Bentley iTwin Platform, allowing everyone to review options, highlight elements, and make comments. They then used OpenRoads and OpenBridge to create and refine models for each portion of the project. By developing a digital twin of the project, they eliminated 3,500 clashes, which prevented costly rework, and reduced the use of expensive elements while keeping the design strong.

Through the use of digital twins and other digital delivery methods, everyone included on these projects had access to information when and where they needed it.

Connecting Data with Openness for Successful Delivery

Inclusivity is also the ability to work with third-party software—meaning openness. DOTs and their supply chains are recognizing that an open technology approach helps facilitate the use of multiple vendors across the infrastructure engineering lifecycle.

At Bentley, we built our business around openness. It is core to our product vision and technology strategy, as it allows our accounts and users to work effectively in mixed environments. Unlike other software suites or solutions, Bentley’s civil design software for roads, bridges, drainage, and geotechnical is completely integrated for optimal design and multidiscipline collaboration. And our iTwin Platform, the foundation for infrastructure digital twins, is completely open as well as secure, and compliant with the security standards for the industry. It allows engineering firms and owner-operators to create and leverage digital twins in design, construction, and operations workflows. We support open standards for information sharing and data exchange, including industry foundation classes (IFCs), and are an active member of buildingSMART, a worldwide industry body driving digital transformation in the built environment.

Our users tell us that what makes Bentley distinct, besides our commitment to openness, is the comprehensiveness of our portfolio; we can support every phase of the transportation infrastructure lifecycle. Our solutions’ breadth of capabilities is why so many DOTs and their supply chains rely on Bentley to design, build, and operate their infrastructure.

For example, Florida DOT (FDOT) sought to develop new digital tools to document project quantities for cost estimation and asset management. Creating their custom FDOT CONNECT workspace based on Bentley applications, they developed a quantity take-off manager and estimated quantities report tools to be used daily by hundreds of designers and engineers. The digital workflows automate and standardize quantity data documentation, streamlining reporting, eliminating paper-based plan sheets, and saving time and costs. Now, FDOT can access and view the pay item associated with any given element in an open digital twin. As digital twins gain more widespread use within the department, review and quality control workflows will become simpler and more effective, as the data will all be contained in a single location.

Another example is New York State DOT (NYSDOT), who sought to update a 75-year-old bridge that is one of the gateways to the island of Manhattan. They needed to collaborate with utility owners, as well as the public, to ensure that their design met all the necessary standards. However, to understand the complex project, they would have to review hundreds of traditional plan sheets, which would have taken a significant amount of time. Therefore, NYSDOT created a digital twin of the bridge with Bentley’s civil applications to provide a full, accurate picture all in one place, allowing more than 180 reviewers across 15 agencies to easily access and comment on the model in an open digital environment. Given the sophisticated sequencing, an overwhelming number of utilities, and enormous group of project stakeholders, this project sets new standards for using a digital twin as the primary contract document.

By working in an open digital environment, both FDOT and NYSDOT were able to successfully deliver these important roadway projects.

New York State’s Department of Transportation set a new standard for using a digital twin as the primary contract document. Video courtesy of NYSDOT.

The Future of Digital Delivery

Given the staffing challenges, the industry needs to proactively shape the future transportation workforce by providing resources to fill skills gaps, recruiting future workers, and providing the necessary tools and technology. The industry also needs to showcase its innovation to attract students toward engineering and then retain them.

The benefits of digital delivery are many and proven—lower project costs, saved time, improved constructability, enhanced visualization, improved coordination of design intent, and enhanced construction efficiency. In fact, according to an HDR research study, digital delivery has been found to save 15% in change orders—a significant financial benefit.

All this means that DOTs can help close the productivity gap by working more efficiently and doing more with less, ensuring that their state’s roadways and bridges are the best that they can be for the communities that they serve.

The future of digital delivery in transportation is here and, at Bentley, we want to help you get there.

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