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Digital Tools Deliver Flexibility and Intelligence to Roadway Redesign Projects

Digital Tools Deliver Flexibility and Intelligence to Roadway Redesign Projects

By Aaron Moniza, PE

University Avenue in Cedar Falls, Iowa, is a busy two-mile divided highway originally constructed in the 1960s that needed a significant overhaul come the early 2010s. Completed over three years and three phases, the $38.9 million project involved turning the six-lane highway into a four-lane multipurpose thoroughfare and replacing eight signalized intersections with roundabouts. The project needed to be completed quickly while meeting the needs of multiple commercial, residential, community, and municipal stakeholders. 

Foth was retained to develop a transportation plan, complete engineering and design, and see the project through to construction, and relied on digital applications throughout the project lifecycle to deliver it ahead of schedule and under budget. 

Project Priorities and Challenges

Prior to the redesign, University Avenue had deteriorated over its more than 50-year lifespan and lacked appropriate bicycle and pedestrian lanes. The road, built primarily for vehicular traffic, was increasingly used by bicyclists, and pedestrians as the University of Northern Iowa continued to attract students and spur population growth. Businesses were difficult to access and road users’ dissatisfaction with the condition of the roadway grew, leading them to lodge complaints with the City of Cedar Falls. 

Safety was of paramount concern. University Avenue was used by 20,000 vehicles daily and experienced a crash rate 20 percent higher than state average. The project faced intense public scrutiny and required rigorous consultation and collaboration with various stakeholders. Due to the quality of the roadway, public complaints, and safety issues, there was urgency to deliver the project quicker than usual, while maintaining access to businesses and minimizing disruptions to road users. 

Digital Applications Improved Project Delivery from Start to Finish

Using digital applications to capture better data, improve collaboration, and coordinate multiple data sets and contractors enabled us to provide a technologically advanced product to the city. In the early phases, we used drones and mobile LiDAR scanning to efficiently capture accurate data. We relied on digital tools to manage and collaborate with 100 Foth members from seven offices on more than 21,000 files and 122 gigabytes of data throughout the five-year project lifecycle. 

The critical digital deliverable we created using Bentley’s open applications was a single Building Information Model (BIM) on which we could collaborate internally and externally. The BIM reduced the design phase by 50 percent and created a data-rich interactive model for use by the city into the future. The BIM model provided the foundation for the effective use of several other digital applications for traffic modelling, utility coordination, comparing design alternatives, and more. 

Foth’s digital model and animated virtual representation proved highly effective in fast-tracking client feedback as well as facilitating discussions and gaining approval from the project’s many stakeholders. Of primary concern for local stakeholders was the incorporation of roundabouts, which had rarely been seen in northeastern Iowa, and the interactive visualizations of how the roundabouts would work helped to alleviate concerns. 

Digital Approach Leads to Bottom Line Results

Using digital applications for the University Avenue project cut the design time in half by saving 1,600 hours and more than $200,000 in project costs. Once the Foth model was used to construct the roadway, the City of Cedar Falls saw an 18 percent reduction in crashes and an 89 percent reduction in injury crashes, addressing the primary safety concerns of the project proponent, community, and roadway users. Of the project’s $38.9 million budget, the projected return on investment is $32 million over the next 25 years through reduced-crash incidents, time savings, eliminated traffic signal maintenance, and more. 

Tangential benefits to the roadway redesign include fewer traffic delays, reduced congestion, and decreased fuel usage and emissions. Using digital applications allowed us to deliver a sustainable project for the city for decades to come: a roadway that meets the needs of all users while providing a clear ROI, improved safety, environmental benefits, and a platform to support future growth. 

Benefits of Going Digital

Throughout the University Avenue project, we relied on multiple Bentley applications to consolidate data, create the BIM, and ensure a single source of truth for all stakeholders. From OpenRoads, to OpenFlow, SewerGEMS, WaterGEMS, ProjectWise, and LumenRT, digital tools allowed us to solve hundreds of utility conflicts and create a digital twin for future use by the city.

The reliable and accurate data produced by using digital tools and consolidating data within a single BIM allows such third parties as construction contractors to provide detailed cost estimates that are often lower than anticipated, and actual costs can be even further reduced. The BIM for the University Avenue project resulted in a reduction of 3 percent, or $500,000, on construction costs from bid amounts.

Digital tools allow for tracing of design and engineering changes and incorporating feedback in hours. Manual input processes are reduced as applications work seamlessly with one another, and dark data, or dead-end data, is reduced or eliminated, ensuring high quality, useful data is captured and incorporated. 

Digital Transformation Applications for Future Infrastructure Projects

Whether replacing aging infrastructure or building new to accommodate population growth, digital tools will continue to improve and expand the applications for bridge, roadway, and other civic projects. The Internet of Things, smart grids, and smart cities mean that the world in which we live will continue to grow in the amount, quality, and speed of data it produces daily on usage, patterns, and performance. 

While the University Avenue project illustrates the many uses for digital applications in the data capture, engineering and design, and construction phases of a project, an area for future growth is in operations and asset management. A digital twin is powerful in continually modeling future scenarios and conveying vital data about improvement opportunities, leading to better planning, decision making, and allocation of funding.

The use of Augmented Reality and machine learning will continue to grow to support the entire project lifecycle by efficiently analyzing data and returning viable scenarios, leading to quicker and more accurate decision making. 

Over the last decade, the changes made in how we deliver infrastructure projects are substantial; technology has transformed our processes, communication, and deliverables. Ten years ago, it was common to deliver a binder of drawings at project completion, and now we are delivering an interactive digital twin that provides flexibility, intelligence, and countless opportunities for future use. In the next 10 years the pace of change will continue to increase, with digital applications becoming better, faster, and more integrated with the as-built world, providing incredible potential for delivering improved infrastructure projects.  

Aaron Moniza is a Professional Engineer and Senior Client Manager of Infrastructure Solutions at Foth.