Innovation Spotlight: How DOTs Are Moving Toward Digital As-Builts

The FHWA is promoting the deployment of Digital As-Builts (DABs) in Round 6 of the Every Day Counts (EDC-6) Program.  FHWA defines DABs as an accumulation of the data used during digital project delivery that provides a living record of built infrastructure for agencies’ future business needs.   The latest FHWA Innovator, September/October, Issue 86, features a section on e-Ticketing and Digital As Builts that briefly defines the innovation and its benefits along with a short video of digital delivery efforts at Utah DOT.  

During EDC-6, the NJ STIC has set forward goals for advancing Digital As-Builts, assessing the current stage of innovation as “development” and setting forward some near-term capacity-building actions.

This article reports on a brief Digital As-Builts Literature Scan and provides references to a select bibliography of research reports, strategic plans and other resource documents that may warrant closer inspection for innovation teams. The literature scan identifies some key definitions, benefits, emerging practices, recurring challenges and possible lessons when taking steps toward deployment of DABs.

Digital As-Builts Literature Scan

Introduction

A Digital As-Built (DAB) innovates by transferring what are typically 2D, paper records into digital, three-dimensional (3D) datafiles that can be regularly updated and shared with stakeholders throughout a project’s life cycle. This information becomes invaluable in the asset management and operations phase, in which it is crucial for agencies to have the most current, comprehensive data covering their facility’s construction. DABs can also be referred to as digital twins, intricate computerized copies of a road or bridge that simulate real-time conditions, allowing for predictive maintenance and more cost-effective mitigation projects.

Across the country, state departments of transportation (state DOTs) are beginning to adopt DABs requirements for future road and bridge projects. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), for instance, has established ambitious agency goals that by 2035, all agency projects will be bid upon using 3D models—which will be updated throughout the project’s development through completion, and then stored in a centralized database (PennDOT, 2020).

While industry standard software and practices are still emerging, the research, experiences, and challenges from DOTs nationwide can assist in the identification of promising practices and planning the transition to DABs.

Benefits of Digital As-Builts

Digital As-Builts are digitized, detailed records of completed construction projects. These could encapsulate roadways, bridges, barriers, berms, and any other facilities. What is revolutionary about DABs is their capacity to be used as digital twins, sophisticated mock-ups of the actual structure that enable agencies to streamline maintenance and improvement projects. DABs are simple to store and distribute, reducing the time and material costs from producing traditional 2D as-builts. Created using Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD) software, and updated with real-world readings, such as laser-based LiDAR, DABs are versatile and, increasingly, trustworthy records.  

DABs were selected as part of the FHWA’s EDC-6, featured for their advances in safety, time savings, and quality (FHWA, 2021).  In addition to providing high quality records that can optimize maintenance and asset management, DABs can streamline the project development process by easily showing decision makers the location of existing infrastructure. The safety benefits come, in part, from shorter work interruptions of regular traffic flows.  

DABs offer the capability to reliably retain information throughout the project process, as data is handed over from one department agency to another.  A UC-Davis report, conducted on behalf of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), suggests that DABs can reduce the risk of lost information considerably (Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Research Center, 2020). Another report, prepared for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) by University of Kentucky researchers, found that digital documentation could significantly build trust in as-built records. In 2018, KYTC spent $217,000 on new forensic investigations because handmade, paper as-builts were deemed untrustworthy (Kentucky Transportation Center, 2019). But DABs, especially when well-updated and held to high standards of detail, can reduce the need for new surveys and ultimately lower costs.

DABs feed into an integrated workflow in which completed facility information is readily accessible for asset management and maintenance. This process is an element of Civil Integrated Management (CIM), and involves the entire lifecycle of a facility.

Existing Practices

Though many aspects of life have been affected by increasing digitization, the as-built record-keeping process in state transportation remains rooted in the analog era. It was apparent, from the literature reviewed, that the majority of state transportation departments are still using 2D, paper as-builts for facility specifications.

When DABs were being used, they were as pilot projects to demonstrate their efficacy. Or, when a part of agency practice, as in the case of Caltrans, implementation was inconsistent and without sufficient coordination (AHMCTRC, 2020).  Similarly, in Kentucky, some records were being stored digitally but without a designated central repository, or as hardcopies in a State Library and Archives warehouse for storage (KTC, 2019), offering little use for ongoing maintenance. States like Michigan and North Carolina, while looking to transition to digital records, were still working on their digital strategies and have yet to implement them as practice (FHWA, 2019).

Some states have recently established regulations requiring DABs, such as the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), which updated the State Highway Utility Accommodation Code in 2021 calling for 3D subsurface models showing the location of utility lines in CDOT’s Right-of-Way (Colorado Department of Transportation, 2021). New York has established a 3D, 4D, and 5D requirement for certain megaprojects (such as the new Kosciuzko Bridge), that tie contractor payments to a continuously-updated model that is then revised with as-built information (FHWA, 2014). And Nevada, while requiring digital contract documents, has yet to add an as-built component. (Nevada Department of Transportation, 2021).

Many DOTs are being spurred to action by technological innovations and by prior EDC rounds (FHWA, 2015) and by the current FHWA’s EDC-6 e-Ticketing and Digital As-Builts initiative.

Emerging Practices

PennDOT appears at the leading edge in its development of a comprehensive DAB implementation plan, intending to adopt the digital delivery process as a department standard by 2025. For DABs, this involves a 5-year span spent developing standards and workflows for implementation. The planning process includes the functioning of various working groups for determining necessary infrastructure and modeling requirements, workspace needs, and training plans. Though PennDOT’s plan is still in progress, their Digital Delivery 2025 Strategic Plan offers a good example of a comprehensive, implementation document detailing steps the agency must take to make the transition to digital delivery (PennDOT, 2020).

Illusrates PenndDOT roadmap schedule for implementation of DABs

Figure 1: Sample Digital Delivery Roadmap from PennDOT.

Agencies in other states are also piloting new standards. Many DOTs are planning to convert from paper records, and to capitalize on this transition by taking advantage of the new digital records in the asset management process.

The Utah Department of Transportation of Transportation (UDOT) has created a website describing the benefits of digital delivery, including the advantages of the use of Digital Twins (UDOT, 2021). UDOT’s site also contains sample deliverables packages for contractors, with technical specifications for roadways, drainage, and structures viewable in Bentley ProjectWise, and document management software used for DABs by several DOTs (e.g., Virginia, Washington, Kentucky, and others) (Virginia Department of Transportation, 2019).

Virginia is also working to establish new guidelines to support the Civil Integrated Management (CIM) process. The guidelines will set standards for Level of Detail (LOD) for 3D renderings, as some models can be inconsistent. Because they are intended to exist as exact records of the constructed facility, DABs are required to be the highest LOD (Level 400) (Virginia Department of Transportation, 2020).

Michigan and North Carolina are currently transitioning from 2D plan sheets to 3D models of contractual documents (FHWA, 2019). Both states plan to incorporate the records into asset and operations management over the project’s lifecycle.

NYSDOT, for a bridge reconstruction in the Catskill region, developed a 3D model for a contract document using Bentley iTwin Design Review software (CS Engineer Magazine, 2021). After the bridge is completed, the contractor is obligated to upload as-built information to the 3D model. This approach is being piloted in New York, but is not yet adopted practice.

In Minnesota, the state Department of Transportation (MnDOT), adopted special as-built requirements for certain regions in the state, starting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan area (FHWA, 2019). The agency also has a dedicated website with DAB specifications. For example, a barrier as-built report might include latitudinal and longitudinal X, Y, and Z coordinates, as well as a Plan ID referring back to the plan set.

Nearby, Iowa DOT has begun using geo-equipped devices from ESRI to capture vector and asset attribute data during the construction process (Iowa DOT Research, 2021). The geolocated data captures the location and geometry of facilities, and is then uploaded to a Microsoft SQL server. As opposed to developing a 3D model in the design process, and then updating it with as-built conditions, an after-the-fact approach captures three-dimensional as-built data outside of the Building Information Modeling (BIM) process.

Other states are exploring how they might apply these concepts to how they manage the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of their facilities. The literature resources reviewed made the benefits of DABs abundantly clear, and showed considerable progress being made, but they also identified challenges in the full-scale deployment of Digital As-Builts as standard practice.

Challenges

Several of the resources reviewed identified barriers for DOTs for implementing DABs. For Developing a Strategic Roadmap for Caltrans Implementation of Virtual Design Construction/Civil Integrated Management (2020), researchers surveyed Caltrans employees from various departments to learn more about the obstacles that the department faced.  Similarly, University of Kentucky researchers surveyed Kentucky Transportation Cabinet (KYTC) staff, in Redefining Construction As-Built Plans to Meet Current Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Needs (2019).  FHWA has also prepared reports on innovative digital records practices at various states that detail various challenges (FHWA, 2019).  

These reports reveal some recurring themes on the challenges experienced by state DOTs that can be broken into two axes — Workflow and Workforce — as well as some solutions to surmount them.

Table 1: Examples of Workflow and Workforce Challenges and Solutions to DABs Implementation

AxesChallengesSolutionsExamples
WorkflowInconsistent ImplementationDevelop robust, time-tested workflowsPennDOT
Workflow SiloizationFacilitate interdepartmental coordination on projects and data updatesCaltrans
Workflow CompatibilityExtensively test software workflows for technical errors, such as incompatibilityPennDOT
Workflow StandardsCreate file, format, and procedural standards (i.e. designated Levels of Detail). Require compatible software infrastructure to support DABsPennDOT, UDOT, VDOT, NDOT, CDOT
Workforce Digital Competencies Educate employees with ongoing trainings that ease into DAB processPennDOT
WorkforceComplianceEducate for and enforce DAB protocolsUDOT, MnDOT

For example, the Caltrans report made clear that the development of an agency-wide workflow was paramount. Without one, various divisions were inconsistent and ineffective at capturing, maintaining, and communicating about DABs. Caltrans Roadway Design and Structures Design divisions fell short in updating and sharing the existence of updates with one another (AHMCTRC, 2020).  

Regarding particular software, files, and workstations, care must be taken in the workflow design process to ensure compatibility. In Caltrans case, the Roadway Design and Structures Design divisions were using incompatible 3D modeling software. Iowa DOT experienced a similar issue, in which 3D, geolocated models created using ESRI software were then unable to be meaningfully edited in Bentley MicroStation (Iowa DOT Research, 2021).  In addition, Iowa DOT’s 3D models, designed as part of a BIM process for a bridge girder replacement project, could not be edited because of the file type. An audit of Kentucky’s Transportation Cabinet found that, though there was a central repository for digital records (Bentley’s ProjectWise), files were uploaded inconsistently (KTC, 2019). While NYSDOT had planned, during the construction of the new Kosciusko Bridge, to continuously update a 3D model to show newly built components, they experienced severe network capacity constraints that prevented them from doing so (FHWA, 2014). Upfront planning, interdepartmental collaboration and testing ensures that DABs potential is unleashed.

The second tier of challenges arise from issues with workforce adoption. An FHWA case study looking at digital record keeping at MnDOT highlights difficulty with securing buy-in from construction staff to comply with new DAB requirements (FHWA, 2019). The KYTC study singled out a lack of digital competencies from older employees as one barrier towards adopting these new technologies. Change is difficult to implement, but especially when staff have become accustomed to the same practice for decades.

Recommendations

For Workflow design, a considered and deliberative process is required. Agencies must convene working groups of stakeholders and learn about department-specific concerns and established processes. Several years may be required to design new DAB workflows that maximize the potential of the new technology, and ensure that the infrastructure is in place to support and encourage staff to follow these workflows.

PennDOT’s plan for implementing digital delivery is an instructive and thorough model document on the subject (PennDOT, 2020). The agency’s Digital Delivery Strategic Plan breaks tasks down into actionable steps, such as Task 2.3, Post Construction Process and Procedures Development, scheduled from Q2-Q3 of 2021, which will map out new requirements and a plan to realize the new processes. An agency wishing to avoid siloization would do well to consult the UC-Davis study that provides itemized, exact solutions.

Graphic displaying PennDOT roadmap

Figure 2: Another visual representation of PennDOT’s Digital Delivery Roadmap.

Architects of the new DAB workflow should be careful to promote interdepartmental collaboration, as well as select compatible software that supports such a goal. Bentley Systems design, engineering, and review software—MicroStation, OpenRoads, and ProjectWise, principally—appear to be the most consistently used across the country (AHMCTRC, 2020). For determining a cohesive workflow, it is imperative that varying software have compatibility with one another—and that they are consistently used across the department.

For the issue of designated detail levels, both Minnesota and Virginia have developed tables with standards specifying when and where to make DABs as accurate as possible, such as whether to survey the constructed facility at a detail of one foot or one meter (FHWA, 2019). The overall objective of the department may help to guide the development process: how does the agency aim to utilize BIM technology? A representative DAB could help to dramatically increase the efficiency of future maintenance or upgrade projects, but only if the appropriate standards are first put in place.

The Workforce presents complementary challenges and solutions. A technology is only useful if it is appropriately deployed—part of the workflow design process should include consultation with staff on specific barriers they face in their daily adoption of the technology. What might be preventing them from doing so? What types of trainings are required to achieve core competencies? Interviewing staff stakeholders will also help to determine accountability measures that could be put in place, for both staff and contractors, to help ensure consistent compliance with new workflows (KTC, 2019).

Moving Forward

Digital As-Builts are a promising technological innovation that can reduce inefficiencies in the life cycle of a transportation facility. If appropriately deployed, DABs can maximize the value of a project, eliminating the need for new forensic investigations, and retaining information as it is handed off from one phase to the next. Many of the DOTs surveyed are considering and incorporating innovative practices into their DAB implementation. Both Caltrans and KYTC, for example, are studying the use of laser-based scanning technologies to develop geolocated 3D models post-construction. In the coming years, as DABs are adopted into practice, more case studies will become available for reference.

From the resources reviewed, it was apparent that Digital As-Builts are promising technology that can streamline record-keeping and save transportation agencies both time and money.

Bibliography

Advanced Highway Maintenance and Construction Technology Research Center (2020). Developing a Strategic Roadmap for Caltrans Implementation of Virtual Design Construction/Civil Integrated Management. California Department of Transportation.https://dot.ca.gov/-/media/dot-media/programs/research-innovation-system-information/documents/final-reports/ca20-3178-finalreport-a11y.pdf

Colorado Department of Transportation. (2021). State Highway Utility Accommodation Code. Colorado Department of Transportation. https://www.sos.state.co.us/CCR/GenerateRulePdf.do?ruleVersionId=9244&fileName=2%20CCR%20601-18

CS Engineer Magazine. (2021). NYS DOT Delivers First Model-based Contracting 3D Project in Its History; Delivered the Project Under Budget and Restored a Critical Bridge to the Community. CS Engineer Magazine. https://csengineermag.com/nys-dot-delivers-first-model-based-contracting-3d-project-in-its-history-delivered-the-project-under-budget-and-restored-a-critical-bridge-to-the-community/

Federal Highway Administration. (2014). 4D and 5D Modeling: NYSDOT’s Approach to Optimizing Resources. Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/construction/3d/hif16024.pdf

Federal Highway Administration. (2015).  3D Engineered Models: Schedule, Cost and Post-Construction: Fact Sheet. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/pdfs/factsheets/edc/edc-3_factsheet_3d_engineered_models.pdf

Federal Highway Administration (2021). e-Ticketing and Digital As-Builts. Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc_6/eticketing.cfm

Federal Highway Administration. (2019). Michigan DOT Digital Delivery Working Group. Federal Highway Administration. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/construction/econstruction/edc4/hif19033.pdf

Federal Highway Administration. (2019). Minnesota and Iowa DOT Solutions for Capturing Asset Information During Construction. Federal Highway Administration.https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/construction/econstruction/hif19075.pdf

Iowa DOT Research. (2021). Development of Digital As-Built for Use in Future Asset Management Applications. Iowa Department of Transportation.https://ideas.iowadot.gov/subdomain/stic-incentive-funds/end/node/3410?qmzn=iKFrYf

Kentucky Transportation Center. (2019). Redefining Construction As-Built Plans to Meet Current Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Needs. Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.  https://uknowledge.uky.edu/ktc_researchreports/1630/

National Cooperative Highway Research Program. (2015).  Advances in Civil Integrated Management. Scan Team Report. NCHRP Project 20-68A, Scan 13- 02.   http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP20-68A_13-02.pdf

Nevada Department of Transportation. (2021). CAD Standards and Information. Nevada Department of Transportation. https://www.dot.nv.gov/doing-business/about-ndot/ndot-divisions/engineering/design/cadd-standards-and-information

North Carolina Department of Transportation. (2020). Perspectives on Anticipated OpenRoads Designer (ORD) Technological Benefits. North Carolina Department of Transportation. https://connect.ncdot.gov/resources/CADD/OpenRoads%20Designer%20Documents/NCDOT%20Research%20and%20Innovation%20Summit_ORD%20Presentation_10-14-20_Final.pdf

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. (2020). Digital Delivery Directive 2025 Final Strategic Plan. Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. https://www.penndot.gov/ProjectAndPrograms/3D2025/Documents/Final%20Strategic%20Plan%20V1.0.pdf

Utah Department of Transportation. (2021). Digital Delivery. Utah Department of Transportation. https://digitaldelivery.udot.utah.gov/pages/bdc1336e1ade43d5bac2deca0e3e4837

Virginia Department of Transportation. (2020). 3D Model Development Manual. Virginia Department of Transportation. http://www.virginiadot.org/business/resources/LocDes/3D_Model_Development_Manual.pdf

Virginia Department of Transportation. (2019). Instructional and Informational Memorandum. Virginia Department of Transportation. http://www.virginiadot.org/business/resources/LocDes/IIM/IIM118.pdf Washington State Department of Transportation. (2017). Electronic Engineering Data Standards. Washington State Department of Transportation. https://wsdot.wa.gov/publications/manuals/fulltext/M3028/ElectronicEngDataStandards.pdf

Four images, a drainage pipe, an overpass, a parking space, and a curb, with text in the center that reads Capitalizes on Economies of Scale

Project Bundling Webinar Series

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has provided webinar recordings as part of ongoing support for the EDC-5 Project Bundling Initiative. While project bundling is not an entirely new concept, these trainings share best practices and advanced methods for the most efficient and effective project bundling applications. Several more trainings are scheduled through May 2022. 

Upcoming Webinars

  • October 14, 2021: Bundling Implementation Best Practices Workshop: The Self-Assessment Tool (Registration link)
  • October 19, 2021: Project Bundling: Planning and Capital Programming (Registration link) 
  • January 18, 2021: Project Bundling: Preconstruction (Registration link)
  • March 15, 2022: Project Bundling: Local Agency Partnering (Registration link)
  • May 17, 2022: Project Bundling: Construction and Contract Considerations (Registration link)

Past Webinars

  • September 16, 2020: Advanced Project Bundling: Examples Beyond Bridges (Webinar link)
  • October 21, 2020: Moving Towards Advanced Project Bundling: Key Characteristics of Lead Agencies (Webinar link).  )
  • November 18, 2020: Advanced Project Bundling: Making the Business Case (Webinar link)
  • December 16, 2020: Project Bundling for Local Public Agencies (Webinar link)
  • January 20, 2021: Advanced Project Bundling: How To (Webinar link)
  • February 17,2021: Advanced Project Bundling: Overcoming Hurdles (Webinar link)
  • June 15, 2021: A Strategic Approach to Project Bundling: What Does Success Look (Webinar link)
  • August 17, 2021: Project Bundling: The Business Process (Webinar link) 

 FHWA contacts for the Project Bundling initiative are Romeo Garcia (Romeo.Garcia@dot.gov) and David Unkefer (David.Unkefer@dot.gov).  

Updated September 15, 2021

Image of an intersection at night, a long exposure has made the cars driving by appear as lines of light

Adventures in Crowdsourcing Webinar Series 

Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations is one of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Every Day Counts (EDC) initiatives for the 2021-2022 round. The program is looking for innovative solutions to integrating low-cost data, such as information from smartphones or connected vehicles, into transportation systems management and operations (TSMO). To support this effort, FHWA is offering “Adventures in Crowdsourcing”, a series of virtual events with industry leaders sharing their knowledge and solutions.  More information on this EDC-6 Initiative, including case studies is available here.  

Visit the Adventures in Crowdsourcing webinar page to view past webinars, or click on one of the links below to view a specific webinar.

FHWA contacts for Crowdsourcing for Advancing Operations are James Colyar (james.colyar@dot.gov), Greg Jones (GregM.Jones@dot.gov), and Ralph Volpe (Ralph.Volpe@dot.gov).  

Image of a road, before and after safety treatment, in the second image there is an extra curb of asphalt added to the shoulder, to help keep cars more centered on the roadway

Focus on Reducing Rural Roadway Departures (FoRRRwD): Webinar Series

FHWA’s Focus on Reducing Rural Roadway Departures (FoRRRwD) initiative, part of EDC-5, looks to provide systematic, targeted solutions for implementing rural road safety measures. FHWA created a series of webinars to guide state, local and tribal transportation practitioners through this new process. 

Supplemental materials, such as videos, articles, and other resources may be accessed from the FoRRRwD Resources page. 

For more information on the FoRRRwD initiative and resources, contact Cathy Satterfield at cathy.satterfield@dot.gov, and Joseph Cheung at joseph.cheung@dot.gov

2-D Hydraulic Modeling User’s Forum Web Series

The FHWA 2-D Hydraulic Modeling User’s Forum webinar series wrapped up on March 2, 2021 with a discussion of model controls and results, FHWA Resource Center opportunities, training opportunities, current software versions, resources, and FEMA guidance available. The tips and tricks segment provided an overview of the new 3D Bridge feature in SMS. The use of 2-D Hydraulic Modeling tools is promoted through the Every Day Counts Round 4 and 5 innovation Collaborative Hydraulics: Advancing to the Next Generation of Engineering (CHANGE).

For more information, please go to CHANGE.

If you missed the March 2nd meeting, or any of the previous meetings, or if you are looking for training material, free software and tutorials, please refer to the links below:

A-GaME’s 2020-2021 Winter Webinar Series: Ready When You Are

The FHWA A-GaME winter webinar series featured several topics highlighting proven, effective exploration method and practices for enhanced, effective site characterization that reduce project risks, improve quality and accelerate project delivery.  Experts from the FHWA, state DOTs, industry and academia covered everything from the nuts and bolts of A-GaME methods to visualization and design.

If you missed the webinars live or want to review content, the archived webinars are now hosted on Deep Foundations Institute’s YouTube channel and available to watch on demand.

To stay in the know on A-GaME updates, FHWA invites you to Subscribe to A-GaME e-News!

For more information, contact Ben Rivers at Benjamin.Rivers@dot.gov.

Innovation Spotlight: NJDOT Local Aid Design Assistance Program

When cities, counties, and other local public agencies (LPAs) use Federal funds for transportation projects, they must follow all of the applicable Federal laws and regulations attached to the Federal aid. NJDOT, like other state departments of transportation (DOTs), oversees the LPA program and works with agencies to help them use Federal-aid effectively. During Round 2 of the Every Day Counts Program (EDC-2), FHWA promoted innovative strategies for overcoming common challenges with Locally Administered Federal-Aid Projects including practices for enabling “Consultant Services Flexibilities” on local programs and projects.   

To aid its LPAs in the delivery of its non-traditional projects programs, the NJDOT Division of Local Aid and Economic Development (Local Aid) established the Local Aid Design Assistance Program. The Design Assistance Program seeks to support LPAs that have received federal grants through the Safe Routes to School and Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside (TA Set-Aside) programs. The Program provides a pool of pre-qualified engineering design consultants to assist LPAs with plans, specifications and estimates (PS&Es) with the goal of seeing more infrastructure projects implemented. Laine Rankin, Director of Local Aid and Economic Development, and Julie Seaman, Project Management Specialist, described the program.

The NJDOT Local Aid Resource Center website provides links to information on the Design Assistance Program

The NJDOT Local Aid Resource Center website provides links to information on the Design Assistance Program

What are some of the most common challenges local agencies face with the project design process?

LPAs often face lack of staff, lack of funding, and staff turnover, all of which can limit their capacity to take on the federal grant process and can result in delays in infrastructure project planning and implementation. Because New Jersey is a home-rule state, the State has limited jurisdiction over county or local roads. Instead, the municipalities and counties are responsible for infrastructure improvements on their roads. The NJDOT Local Aid Office assists the municipalities in implementing these projects by administering the federal funding for them. Local Aid is ultimately responsible for the spending of these federal dollars.

Safe Routes and TA Set-Aside grant recipients face challenges in understanding and complying with requirements related to federal grant administration. In particular, the requirements of the Brooks Act, also known as Qualifications Based Selection, prove difficult to satisfy in project administration. The Brooks Act details federal requirements for the procurement of professional services of consultants, including:

  • Issuing a request for proposal or RFP from consultants based on approved written procurement policies and procedures
  • Solicitation, evaluation, ranking and selection of consultants
  • Selecting a consultant based on qualifications and experience, not cost
  • Negotiating a fair and reasonable cost and contract terms with selected consultant
  • Monitoring the consultants’ work
  • Evaluating the consultants’ performance
  • Contract completion

How does the design assistance program work?

The federal grant process

The federal grant process

Most grant applications that Local Aid receives do not describe projects that are construction-ready. LPAs need assistance to complete designs, and develop engineering plans, specifications, and estimates required to see a project built.

Through the Design Assistance Program, NJDOT procures a pool of design consultants that LPAs can then choose to work with. Once NJDOT and the MPOs have chosen the projects that will be funded for a grant cycle, Local Aid develops a Request for Proposals (RFP) that lists the selected projects and scope for each grant. The NJDOT Office of Procurement solicits a pool of engineering firms that will be able to assist the grant recipients with their particular projects. The firms considered for the pool are typically familiar with requirements associated with developing a set of plans which are compliant to the NJDOT plan and AASHTO standards. Once the consultant pool has been approved by NJDOT management, a letter is sent to all of the grant recipients of that grant cycle informing them of the engineering firms available.

The NJDOT Local Aid Office partners with NJ’s three Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the TA Set-Aside project selection process

The NJDOT Local Aid Office partners with NJ’s three Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the TA Set-Aside project selection process

Funding for design assistance comes from the same line of federal funding as the SRTS grant and the TA Set-Aside grants. LPAs receive grant funds for the design program above the amount awarded for the project itself.

For how many years has the design assistance program been operating?

Although this is a pilot program, we initiated the process in April of 2014 and it took about a year and a half to get it up and running following meetings with FHWA, NJDOT Procurement, and the NJDOT Deputy Attorney General. Our office talked to peers in other states including Kentucky, New York, Missouri, among others to understand how other Local Aid offices were handling design assistance for grant recipients and the consultant solicitation process. Design assistance programs were developed for both the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) and the Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside (TA Set-Aside) programs. Design assistance first became available to grant recipients in the 2014 grant round and we solicit grant applications on a two-year cycle, or after a grant solicitation for that particular program has been completed.

How do the LPAs find out about the design assistance program?

TA Set-Aside Grant Webinar explained the purpose and benefits of the Local Aid Design Assistance program

TA Set-Aside Grant Webinar explained the purpose and benefits of the Local Aid Design Assistance program

The design assistance program is introduced in our general training session for applicants that describes how to apply for a Safe Routes or TA Set-Aside grant. After the grant awards are announced, information about the program is included in the letter that we send to grant recipients, and a separate informational session is held with grant recipients to discuss the design assistance pool. All grant recipients are eligible to take part in the program; they do not apply for the program and there is no obligation to take part.

Can you say what percentage of grant recipients choose to use the program?

It has taken some time to publicize the program, but awareness among LPAs is growing.  In 2016, 19 of 36 TA Set Aside grant recipients, and 12 of 17 SRTS grant recipients elected to use the program.  Our 2018 pools are still open; to date, 13 of 25 TA Set Aside grant recipients and 13 of 18 SRTS grant recipients have shown interest in the program. We have approval from FHWA to keep the pool open for a year, with an option to extend up to two years. If an LPA proposes a TA Set-Aside project that involves some specialized work that the engineering firms could not respond to – such as architectural design, then the LPA will not be able to use the design assistance program.

Do NJDOT, the LPA, and the consultants work together through the design assistance process?

Yes. The project application is reviewed and a field meeting is typically scheduled with representatives of the LPA, the consultant engineering firm, the Local Aid regional office, and NJDOT environmental staff. The LPA, NJDOT, and the consultant then work together to develop the scope of work. The consultant prepares a fee proposal and Local Aid develops an independent cost estimate that is used to compare with the consultant’s proposal. NJDOT assists in negotiating the agreement between the LPA and the consultant but the LPA executes an agreement directly with the consultant. NJDOT authorizes federal-aid funds for the design, in excess of the project grant award. The LPA continues to work with the Local Aid District Office through the design process, and NJDOT conducts an environmental review as well. Before the project goes to construction, the plans and specs are submitted to the Local Aid District office for approval in order to ensure a biddable, buildable, project. The LPA pays the consultant directly and then requests reimbursement for the cost from NJDOT.

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What benefits have you seen from the program?

In our experience, what may seem like a simple project, such as installing a sidewalk, can be very complicated. In many cases, particularly for Safe Routes projects, the design costs may exceed the construction costs. We provide design funds for LPAs that choose to procure an engineering firm, but the LPA must comply with the Brooks Act in their procurement process. Some LPAs choose to work with their municipal engineer, but the engineer must be qualified to do the work. Municipal engineers who are involved in the design of these projects are not allowed to also inspect the projects, and these inspection costs increase the overall project cost for the LPAs. For LPAs not using in-house engineering services, the design services procurement process is burdensome.

Through the Local Aid Design Assistance Program, we are distributing more federal funds and seeing more projects advancing than in the past. When we give a grant out, we want folks to build it. LPAs can develop more involved projects. The program results in better compliance with complex state and federal regulations and helps resolve typical engineering issues, such as right-of-way and utilities, that can affect project cost and schedule. LPAs are better prepared for the permitting process.

Do you see the program continuing into the future?

We will be continuing the program. There are always some tweaks to be made but the program is helping local agencies implement projects that improve health and safety throughout the State.


Resources

American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). (u.d.). The Brooks Act: Federal Government Selection of Architects and Engineers. Public Law 92-582, 92nd Congress, H.R. 12807, October 27, 1972. Legislation on Website. Retrieved from: https://www.acec.org/advocacy/qbs/brooks/

American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC). (u.d.). The Brooks Act: How to use Qualifications Based Selection. Website. Retrieved from: https://www.acec.org/advocacy/qbs/brooks2/

FHWA. (u.d.). EDC-2 Innovations. Website. Retrieved from: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/innovation/everydaycounts/edc-2.cfm

NJDOT. (2020). Applying for Federal Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Program Funds Webinar TA Set-Aside Grant Webinar Session #2. Online Session. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mxjlb1Zyr0&feature=youtu.be

NJDOT. (2020). Transportation Alternatives Set-Aside Design Assistance Program. Presentation. Retrieved from: https://njdotlocalaidrc.com/perch/resources/taset-asidedesignassistanceprogramworkshop-2-28-2020jules-1.pdf