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To address America’s crumbling infrastructure, follow Britain’s lead


No longer the infrastructure envy of the world, many of the United States’ roads, bridges, public transit, and tunnels are crumbling and in need of substantial maintenance or replacement. Compounding these often-discussed challenges are the pressures of increased urbanization and population growth which will place added pressure on already strained systems.

So, while the Beltway banter continues about how best to address infrastructure funding, we can no longer focus solely on the amount of spending, but rather the manner by which the federal government spends those dollars.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao captured the point perfectly in her confirmation hearing early this year when she said, “It’s also important to recognize that the way we build and deliver projects is as important as how much we invest.”

{mosads}Using building information modeling — BIM — will allow state transportation departments, transit agencies, and the federal government to do far more with existing federal taxpayer dollars by building virtually first, to validate the approach and costs.

But what is BIM? Simply stated, BIM allows project teams across all disciplines — designers, engineers, construction teams and project sponsors/owners — to build in the digital world before building in the physical world. The benefits? Reduced risk, waste, and rework in construction which typically lead to major cost overruns.

Many governments around the world have or are in the process of creating requirements for spending taxpayer funds more responsibly with an eye on long-term growth and modernization of government-funded infrastructure. Individual nations including China, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, France, and the European Union are in the lead on developing BIM policies or standards — and demonstrating real value on behalf of their constituencies.

Perhaps the U.S. Department of Transportation should take a page out of the U.K.’s playbook. The U.K. implemented a technology policy that all government-funded projects, including infrastructure are required to use BIM. Using the BIM process, between 2009 and 2015, the policy saved U.K. taxpayers 15 to 20 percent in construction costs, nearly £900 million, or the equivalent of just north of $1 billion U.S. dollars.

If the U.S. Congress were to pair a $1 trillion infrastructure investment — whether it’s the oft-referenced suggestion by President Trump, a plan by Democratic policymakers, or derived elsewhere — with a similar policy to that of the U.K., U.S. taxpayers could potentially realize $1.2 trillion in spending power. That’s $200 billion in savings through greater collaboration up front among project partners, and better consultation with the public.

If we were to save and reinvest that $200 billion, or 20 percent — a similar goal to that of the U.K. — we would be able to use those savings to replace every single structurally deficient bridge on the National Highway System in the United States at a cost of $25 billion. After replacing all structurally deficient bridges, there would still be more than $175 billion to invest in public transit, roads, and other critical infrastructure. This is real.

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recognized the mounting pressure and presented them in his seminal report, “Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices,” in which the former Obama administration official offers a stark look at what the future holds for our transportation and infrastructure network. Secretary Foxx noted, “We need to focus on the trends that are shaping our future. In Washington, in state capitals and in city halls, it is time to sound the alarm bell: the future is calling.” Yes, the future is indeed calling.

Ben Franklin popularized the phrase, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” When it comes to spending taxpayer dollars on badly needed infrastructure the proverb has even greater meaning. Millions saved means we can put America’s roads, rail, airports, and bridges reliably back to work for us, and would help create many thousands of meaningful jobs.

Jim Lynch is vice president of Autodesk’s Construction Products Group and responsible for establishing product vision and strategy to improve predictability and profitability for construction companies worldwide. Jim is a 25-year veteran of the computer-aided design (CAD) industry and helped to bring Building Information Modeling to the mainstream design and construction industry.

Tags Anthony Foxx Elaine Chao

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