Modernizing Transit: How to Do it Efficiently and with Limited Resources
by Evan Hill | December 2, 2021
As state and local transportation agencies prepare for an influx of federal funding following passage of the U.S.’s bipartisan infrastructure bill, they should evaluate the problems they face and make a plan for how to efficiently utilize the new funds.
“DOT and transit authorities typically face data problems,” explains Doug Reichard, director of transportation and infrastructure for North America at Trimble Inc. The problem is not a lack of data—agencies have lots of data from many sources, but it’s often in siloes and lacks context. “This data is usually dark. For example, if I could access LIDAR data and look at road scans, I wouldn’t know where to start to find the specific information I was looking for.”
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To best utilize the information they’re collecting, transit organizations need to put the data in context and use technology to get data from the office to the field and back. Ultimately, efficient leveraging of data will result in greater project success, timeliness, and environmental sustainability. Here are a few steps DOTs and transit authorities can take to move toward those goals:
1. Understand Your Organization’s Gaps
Achieving greater efficiencies starts with an internal review and understanding of the current gaps or problems you face. “Taking a piece of technology and flicking it at a problem doesn’t fix it,” says Reichard. “You really need to sit and listen, spend time evaluating existing processes and understand the problems. Then, make the necessary changes and apply those to an electronic process.”
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When moving from a paper-based process to a digital project management information solution, evaluate the whole and make changes as needed. “Don’t just re-create your paper system,” says Luke Van Santen, project management system administrator at the Metropolitan Council. “Smooth out rough patches you had in the paper process and eliminate steps that are no longer necessary.”
2. Avoid the Paper Trap
Even if an organization has adopted a digital solution and is committed to utilizing the latest technology in some areas, there may be other areas where they are still dependent on paper. “A rail transit agency finished up a $1.9 billion section of a new line, and at the end, they received two containers filled with paper drawings and documents,” says Reichard. “That agency now employs a group of 20-25 people whose job is to take those drawings and digitize them—a process that will take two years.” While the same agency is utilizing state-of-the-art 3-D modeling technology, their contracts did not require design teams to submit digital documents, landing them in a paper trap.
Minimizing or avoiding paper requires buy-in from contractors and use of digital as-builts. Using digital drawings from the beginning can result in tremendous time and cost savings, Reichard says. “We have technology now that allows a digital as-built to be ported directly into your asset management system. You can have rules that put each piece of information in its place, so you don’t just get a data dump.” Once acquired, that data can be leveraged going forward. “It’s a much more efficient way to manage and maintain in a predictive fashion.”
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“We have technology now that allows a digital as-built to be ported directly into your asset management system. You can have rules that put each piece of information in its place, so you don’t just get a data dump. It’s a much more efficient way to manage and maintain in a predictive fashion.”
Doug Reichard - Director, Transportation and Infrastructure, North America; Trimble
3. Plan for Sustainability Compliance
The coming IIJA federal funding is likely to carry new requirements around environmental sustainability as an essential priority for the construction industry. DOTs and transit organizations should plan ahead for these changes. “The good thing is when you embrace technology, digital construction workflows will make your processes more efficient,” says Reichard. “There’s far less rework, and by doing things digitally, you can get out in front of a lot of challenges before you even break ground on a construction project.”
While transitioning to a more sustainable business model is not a one-size-fits-all solution, the ability to reduce 7-11 percent of global construction costs from wasted rework is not without its merit.
4. Work Toward Universal Buy-In
As your organization adopts digital solutions, it’s important to cultivate cooperation from all stakeholders, from owners to subcontractors. “Maybe it’s set up in your contracts as a requirement—you have to do it digitally,” says Van Santen. “Whatever your approach to gaining buy-in, it’s going to require everybody to jump in and embrace the new technology to be successful.”
Key Topics Covered: infrastructure