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New Mexico Adapts BIM Technology for Roads

Building information modeling (BIM) software used for Interstate-10/Interstate-25 reconstruction project
The New Mexico Department of Transportation made use of building information modeling (BIM) software for its Interstate-10/Interstate-25 reconstruction project, near Las Cruces. A broader Autodesk-based BIM software configuration for transportation engineering projects is under way and expected to be completed this month. New Mexico DOT

The New Mexico Department of Transportation is currently configuring software so that it can use building information modeling (BIM) in transportation engineering projects.

January 22, 2013—Building information modeling (BIM) has become ubiquitous over the last decade. Indeed, according to a report published last year by McGraw-Hill Construction, The Business Value of BIM in North America: Multi-Year Trend Analysis and User Ratings (2007-2012), the number of architects, engineers, and contractors who have become “engaged” with BIM on their projects has jumped to 71 percent, from a mere 28 percent five years earlier. With this level of interest in BIM, it is unsurprising that the software is being configured so that its uses can be extended beyond the buildings it has been typically used for in the past—first to bridges and now to roadways. The New Mexico Department of Transportation is in the final states of configuring a BIM software product from San Rafael, California-based Autodesk, Inc., so that it can be used in its transportation engineering projects.

“This project is focused on introducing an Autodesk-based BIM solution into our survey and engineering workflow,” said Silas A. Salazar, the project manager for the software configuration at the New Mexico Department of Transportation (DOT), who wrote in response to written questions submitted by Civil Engineering online. “Our DOT has been developing and evolving our CADD system since 1997, [and] we are at a point where adopting a BIM framework seems like a natural progression.”

The NMDOT’s roadway project development process has remained fundamentally unchanged for decades despite the introduction of sophisticated computer-aided design software, according to Salazar. It continues to be “very linear and compartmentalized in nature, [because] the process that was born on the drafting table…is still with us today,” he said. “The challenge is to realize that we have the ability right now to make an enormous leap in producing a higher-quality product without retooling our workflows.”

One of the difficulties in adapting BIM for transportation engineering is the range of software that is used during the planning process. “Like other DOTs we run a hybrid shop that includes Bentley, Z/I Imaging, Trimble, DAT/EM, Transoft Solutions, ESRI, AASHTOWare, and others in the course of our project development,” Salazar said. “So a complete BIM solution must successfully navigate [multiple] software barriers.”

The benefit of BIM is that it enables real-time collaboration and three-dimensional visualization of projects, which saves time and money as many architects, engineers, and contractors have already experienced. Salazar agrees, noting that the collaboration can begin as soon as data are collected in the field. “By building intelligent surface models and introducing attributed roadway elements up front in the design process, we begin with a much more valuable data set,” he said. BIM is not a panacea, however, because a “turn-key” solution for transportation engineering does not yet exist, he notes. “A look at the partial software list [we already use] illustrates the challenges to developing a true planning-to-construction system,” he said.

Currently, the NMDOT is finishing a transportation project that is serving as a test case for the use of BIM. The Interstate-10/Interstate-25 reconstruction project in Las Cruces, New Mexico, is expected to be complete by April 30, weather permitting. For the project, twin load-limited bridges along I-10 were replaced to meet current design standards; a third bridge, over I-25, was removed and replaced; various ramps along both interstates were replaced; and the frontage roads were realigned. Drainage improvements and new sound barriers were also included in the project.

Salazar says the project made use of three-dimensional models of the proposed interchange integrated with data from geographical information (GIS) systems. “We were able to create accurate and realistic visualizations to improve coordination,” he said. The models also improved communications with the public, he added. “Once the project is complete, we hope to learn if change orders were reduced and if coordination out in the field was increased.”

The BIM software configuration is expected to be complete by the end of this month, at which point the NMDOT will roll out the software and a 6- to 8-month-long training period for project development personnel and the consultant community will begin, Salazar said. At this point, he notes, BIM will not be required, but may be chosen for use by the NM DOT and its consultants.



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