Technology: Impact on Highway Construction

Infrastructure projects are complex and have a unique set of requirements. Contractors working on these types of projects need to be aware of regulations, safety mandates and so much more in order to succeed.

In fact, a new report on the future of road and highway construction in the United States from IBS World shows the road and highway construction industry continues to experience a number of challenges, which include budgetary constraints and uncertainty around government funding.

In fact, a bill passed by Congress last December could have an impact on these types of construction projects in the future—and specifically on how technology is used at the jobsite.

On December 4, 2015, President Obama signed the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, which aims to provide long-term funding certainty for surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment. The FAST Act allocates $305 billion during fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for highway, motor vehicle safety, public transportation, motor carrier safety, hazardous materials safety and rail, as well as research, technology and statistics programs.

The objective is to focus on safety and continue to streamline project delivery. This is where technology enters the equation.

The FAST Act also continues the Technology and Innovation Deployment Program, which funds efforts to accelerate the implementation of new technologies on highway transportation projects.

In fact, the law sets aside at least $12 million for each of fiscal years 2016 to 2020 to accelerate the deployment and implementation of pavement technology. It also dedicates an unspecified amount for the advanced transportation and congestion management technologies deployment program.

The bottom line is the program aims to “Fix America’s Surface Transportation.” As this happens, contractors working on these project have a lot of factors to address. Perhaps now is the time to identify how highway projects are changing today—and how technology can help enable more efficient highway construction projects in the future.

Impact of Legislation

Tom Webb, vice president of strategy and R&D (research and development) at HCSS, a provider of software for heavy/highway contractors, says his customers have noticed an increase in construction projects. However, the promise of streamlining project delivery and safety through the FAST Act has not been realized yet.

As one of the first long-term funding plans for United States surface transportation in 10 years, this FAST Act enables DOTs (Departments of Transportation) to move larger, multiyear projects into the construction pipeline, according to another provider of heavy/highway software for the construction industry, B2W Software; however, the impact won’t be felt until next year when design and construction considerations begin.

“We have experienced changes related to MAP-21 and the Every Day Counts initiatives, and it is anticipated that FAST will build on these regulations and mandates,” says Rich Humphrey, vice president of marketing, B2W Software.

MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21 Century) was signed on July 6, 2012, and provided funding for surface transportation programs at more than $105 billion for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, while Every Day Counts was launched in 2009 to speed up the delivery of highway projects and address challenges presented by limited budgets. The initiative is a state-based model to identify and deploy proven, but underused innovations to shorten the project delivery process, enhance roadway safety, reduce congestion, and improve environmental sustainability.

As a result of these laws and the newer legislation, the adoption of technology will continue to accelerate for transportation infrastructure. In fact, Humphrey of B2W Software says this will specifically happen with the digitization of the construction process, which includes eliminating paper processes.

“It is important for transportation contractors to realize that with the promise of more projects comes the expectation to deliver these projects faster and in line with increased regulations (such as safety, quality, and transparency),” says Humphrey. “They will not be able to meet the increased demand and delivery expectations using the same processes they always have.”

This is where technology comes into play. Software enables contractors to streamline workflows, improve efficiencies, eliminate paper, and move to more digital processes. All this will result in improved margins.

Data on the Job

Perhaps one of the most important tools on the construction jobsite today is the data that exists. Today, technology offers contractors a wealth of information that can make construction methods more efficient. Now, it is a matter of leveraging the data to improve business processes.

Webb of HCSS points to four key ways technology can improve efficiencies, specifically on highway construction projects, including making construction methods more efficient; removing inefficiencies; reducing paperwork; and driving a crew-oriented safety culture.

“Some of the most costly inefficiencies of the past revolve around equipment breakdowns and rework,” he says. “For the 21st-century contractor using GPS (global positioning software) and preventative maintenance solutions, equipment breakdowns are happening at a much lower frequency. Rework is also reduced, as the construction foremen now have access to the plans created all the way back in the estimating process.”

Tablets such as iPads are also changing technology at the jobsite, he says, as old paperwork processes can now be done in a fraction of the time with new technology.

This sentiment is echoed by Humphreys of B2W Software, who explains there are many opportunities to leverage technology on highway construction projects.

Technology can help solve the challenges of managing project complexity that results from large geographic ranges that often extend to congested urban environments; public demands and mandates related to project safety, quality, and transparency; and margins and operational efficiency tied directly to capital equipment and resource utilization.

“Technology provides the ability to meet these challenges and drive efficiency by better utilizing and connecting resources, including people, equipment, and workflows,” says Humphrey. “As the availability of data increase, the sophistication of technology will allow companies to utilize this abundant information to drive significant highway construction efficiencies.”

B2W Software even goes as far to say that it estimates a 20-25 percent improvement in efficiency could be achieved by providing mobile field staff with access to project data. The first step is ensuring there is a single source of truth for information to be delivered. Next, data needs to be put in the right hands at the right time. Also, data collection workflows—whether from mobile devices, telematics, or other sensor technologies—is a critical component of how data is collected. Finally, digitizing data enables reporting and business intelligence to make critical decisions.

Ultimately, on these highway construction projects, putting the data into the right hands is the key component to how highway projects are changing today.

“Supporting the crew with technology is perhaps the greatest engagement and efficiency benefit a contractor can do to bring more value to the table,” explains Webb of HCSS. “Job success is won and lost in the field and the crew is the biggest influencer of that success.”

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