Between 1953 and 1962, the Texas Highway Department (THD) approved the construction of almost 16,000 miles of highway, bringing the state’s total system to 59,300 miles (more than any other state in the nation), and more than doubling the yearly construction and maintenance budget. Through the Cooperative Research Program and its partnership with THD, the Texas Transportation Institute’s (TTI) research contributions in the areas of freeways, prefabricated concrete beams and girders, new asphalt and aggregate testing procedures, and new highway materials provided valuable guidance and technology to the department during this rapid expansion of highways and freeways. Today, with upwards of 80,000 miles supporting a population of 23.5 million1, Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT)-sponsored research at TTI has helped save millions of dollars in costs associated with planning, constructing and maintaining Texas’ roads and bridges.
A 2008 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Texas contains four of the 10 fastest growing cities in the United States with Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex leading the pack.
To accommodate booming growth and soaring travel in the Lone Star State at a time of increasing uncertainty in transportation funding, it has become paramount to find innovative ways to manage, deliver, operate and maintain projects effectively. To address this critical need, researchers in the Infrastructure Management Program at TTI have been engaged in proactive, cutting-edge research to optimize engineering data management procedures during the entire lifetime of a transportation facility.
What does that mean? In simpler terms, it means that building and operating a modern roadway involves collecting and organizing an almost bewildering array of information, from where transportation facilities are planned or designed to honing down the time and effort it takes to review and process permits to accommodate utilities within the right of way. Efficiency at each step of the process can cut timelines and costs alike.
TTI Research Engineer Cesar Quiroga leads research in this area and has pioneered geographic information system (GIS)-based models and systems to manage engineering and supporting documentation in ways that can contribute to significant increases in productivity and reductions in cost. The research has been hailed at both district and division levels alike at TxDOT, and Quiroga is already looking at new ways to improve on this research.
“We know that streamlined project delivery is a critical requirement to achieve the goal of a more efficient transportation system,” says Quiroga. “Many factors can cause delays during project development and construction. For example, transportation agencies produce enormous amounts of engineering data in a variety of formats with varying levels of accuracy and resolution on several types of storage media.”
“Transportation agencies nationwide recognize the need to implement strategies to ensure data usability and integrity. However, the amount of data those agencies use is growing steadily, making effective management of it increasingly difficult. In addition, although transportation officials have a wealth of data at their disposal, frequent lack of data integrity, accessibility, quality control or plain awareness makes it unnecessarily difficult to put the data to good use. These inefficiencies result in redundant collection efforts, contribute to project delays and can make projects more expensive than they should be.”
A portfolio of progress
Quiroga’s research has filled an efficiency gap in the management of transportation data and information. Here are two examples:
- GIS-based model and guidelines for managing engineering design data in the project development process. The model integrates disparate pieces of information into a coherent structure that handles projects, documents, and existing and proposed ground features. As an immediate result of the research, TxDOT made changes to its electronic document management system content library structure (Project 0-5246).
- Web-based permitting system called Utility Installation Review (UIR) for automating the submission, review and approval of utility permits at TxDOT. UIR is currently operational at five TxDOT districts, with plans for expansion to the rest of the state in the short term. Implementing UIR has resulted in dramatic reductions in the amount of paperwork; savings on plan reproduction, courier costs and mailing costs; more reliable utility permit documentation management and archival; and shorter utility permit review and approval times (Project 5-2110-03).