These days, it’s not unusual to find road builders, designers and inspectors spreading out plans and blueprints on car hoods or whatever else is available as they review how a project is being built.
But the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is leading a national effort to digitize construction plans by 2025 so that work can be done using 3D images on laptops and iPads.
Last week, the agency received a $3.9 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s Advanced Digital Construction Management Systems program to design common, publicly accessible programs for digital blueprints and construction documents that can be used by contractors and government agencies across the country.
Allen S. Melley, PennDOT’s digital delivery chief, said the project began in 2019 as an effort to move away from “lines on paper” to computerized design images by 2025. In addition to being more easily accessible, Melley said, digital documents will allow officials to see designs from different angles and create a construction history of projects that can be reviewed years later to see how a project was built, including underground elements.
Creating a digitized record also will show how and when maintenance was done on a project, he said.
“If I can click on something, I can see all the plans and the as-built records,” he said. “There’s a lot of information that can be made available for the full life cycle of a project.
“This will give them the information at their fingertips. We’ll know exactly what was done and when it was done [in original construction or maintenance].”
Right now, there are only a few proprietary systems that can track the type of information that PennDOT wants to make available, and that means government agencies and contractors must have the same system to share information. The federal grant will be used to develop universal programs that can be used with almost any system, similar to a PDF or a word file, so that information is easier to share across systems.
Melley said the department has been working “as a team” with private contractors to develop the digitized system because it will be “a definite change in how we do business.”
It could take several years for the digitized system to become the industry standard, said Bryon Breese, a vice president with Pittsburgh-based Trumbull Corp. Right now, digitized plans have been common for about 10 years in constructing buildings for firms such as Trumbull’s sister company, P.J. Dick, Breese said, but it will be a big change for infrastructure projects.
“Technology has finally given us the tools to do this,” he said. “There will be a learning curve. It’s a very different way of doing things.”
Breese is convinced the effort will be worth it.
“It will be a much more efficient process,” he said. “There will be a tremendous amount of upside that will be gained on the way.”
The PennDOT grant was among 10 the FHWA announced last week worth $33 million to modernize infrastructure construction, a goal of the Biden administration’s economic stimulus program. The program has $85 million earmarked over five years to promote digital construction.
“This project in Pennsylvania will help advance digital construction nationwide because it will serve as a model for other state and local transportation agencies to adopt these best practices,” Federal Highway Administrator Shailen Bhatt said in a news release.