Virtual design with building information modeling saves taxpayer dollars

by Jim Lynch, Vice President, Autodesk Construction Products Group

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

So, while the Beltway banter continues about addressing infrastructure funding, we can no longer focus solely on the amount of spending, but rather the manner by which those dollars are spent. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao captured the point perfectly in her confirmation hearing last 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.”

Using building information modeling – BIM – will allow the federal government to do far more with taxpayer dollars by virtually building first in order 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 doing so in the physical world. The benefits? Reduced risk, waste and rework in construction, which typically lead to cost overruns.

Many governments around the world have or are in the process of creating requirements for spending funds more responsibly with an eye on long-term growth and modernization of government-funded infrastructure. China, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom (U.K.), France and others 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. That nation 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, roughly the equivalent of more than $1 billion U.S. dollars.

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

About the author: Jim Lynch is a 30-year veteran of the computer-aided drafting industry. He has served in a variety of senior management roles in the AEC (architecture, engineering and construction), manufacturing and electronic design automation industries.

Editor’s note: This article is excerpted from one that was originally published in The Hill.

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