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Improving America’s Infrastructure Starts with Laying the Groundwork for Innovation

While political divisions can seem intractable, there is one issue where there appears to be overwhelming alignment: the need to improve our country’s infrastructure. When it comes to our nation’s transportation and water systems, America’s politicians and citizens agree it’s imperative to build safe, reliable, and modern infrastructure – and fast. We can only move forward with a strong commitment to both policy change and innovation.

A Long Road Ahead: America’s Growing Infrastructure Needs

The need to strengthen and update our nation’s infrastructure has never been more pressing. According to the United Nations, the global population is expected to increase by two billion in the next 30 years. Accommodating 9.7 billion people requires action, especially in our urban areas. 

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Source: Redshift

Without action, infrastructure will continue to be strained, costing both our communities and the economy. Both planning and investment need to be a priority  – and, investment in infrastructure pays off economically. 

According to The Hill, “as American prosperity attests, infrastructure spending when done well is not a fiscal cost, but provides a return on investment and is the wellspring of national prosperity. The Federal Reserve places the return infrastructure as $1.5 to $3 for every dollar invested, a number supported by the International Monetary Fund.”

Policy can and should be a major driver of infrastructure development and improvements. It’s why Autodesk sponsored the United for Infrastructure’s (UFI’s) Presidential Candidates Forum on Infrastructure, Jobs and the Economy. On February 16, 2020, Democratic presidential candidates took the stage at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas for a national conversation on how to best address critical infrastructure needs. 

You can watch the C-SPAN video above to learn how our politicians will address rising infrastructure challenges. 

But policy is only one piece of the puzzle. While our nation’s leaders have the responsibility to provide the right groundwork for infrastructure to thrive, it’s those on the front line who will be handed the keys to enact meaningful change. That’s why today, we are calling on all infrastructure builders to rise to the challenge and innovate.

Empowering Infrastructure Innovation from the Front Lines

Spending and investment in infrastructure are likely to increase, but money alone is not enough to address growing demands. Sixty-eight percent of our world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050 compared to 55% of today’s population. As our urban areas grow and people want better access to transportation, civil construction teams will be under increased pressure to deliver well-planned and executed infrastructure projects.

While the skilled labor shortage and legacy models have created hurdles for the entire construction industry, heavy civil teams face an additional set of roadblocks. For instance, infrastructure projects are incredibly complex, requiring large teams to coordinate underground, across long distances, and through a variety of harsh weather conditions. As a result, schedules slippage and budget overruns are all too common. McKinsey & Company has estimated that bridges and tunnels incur an average 35% cost overrun; for roads, it’s 20%.

Furthermore, government projects typically award jobs to general contractors with the lowest bids, increasing pressure to keep margins low. Although the right policies help free up teams from certain regulatory and financing constraints, heavy civil firms need to maintain seamless collaboration and productivity levels to stay ahead of the enormous amount of infrastructure work ahead. In addition to financial support, the Brookings Institution cites, “incorporating more efficient designs and technologies,” as a key solution to help solve upcoming infrastructure difficulties.

We need to move forward by an unwavering commitment to both policy change and innovation. At Autodesk, we have been empowering and connecting infrastructure innovators for 40 years. We know that the right digital technology is essential to helping our nation build better. With next-generation technologies, infrastructure innovators are empowered to build our world’s roads, bridges, airports, rail, and all other modes of transportation, faster, safer, and more sustainable.

Paving the Way to Success: Infrastructure Innovators in Action

“Big infrastructure projects can be economically transformative,” states McKinsey, and both the opportunities and stakes in infrastructure have never been higher. At Autodesk, we’re committed to partnering with infrastructure innovators to improve transit, enhance our communities, and facilitate more efficient urban planning for the next 40 years and beyond.   

Today, thousands of firms are already leveraging Autodesk’s design and engineering technologies for infrastructure projects, including New Jersey Turnpike widening, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) ground transportation updates, and I-64/I-264 interchange improvements in Virginia. Across the U.S., we have seen leading local government agencies lead the charge in adopting technology to improve efficiency. For instance, construction productivity software PlanGrid is now mandated by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) for all civil infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, companies with robust infrastructure practices such as The Walsh Group are among the hundreds that use Autodesk Construction Solutions.  

To prepare for the future, as an industry, we also need to reimagine tomorrow’s infrastructure. Recently, we announced our joint collaboration with Virgin Hyperloop One. Together, we are exploring new opportunities to extend the value of Building Information Modeling (BIM) to route optimization and improved digital engineering and construction workflows for all modes of transportation.  

Across the pond, groundbreaking infrastructure projects like the renovation of Afsluitdijk, the largest dike in the Netherlands, trust Autodesk products like Assemble and BIM 360 to improve both efficiency and quality.

We are dedicated to providing infrastructure builders the most advanced technology to reduce risk, deliver higher quality outcomes, and complete civil infrastructure projects faster. 

Rising to the Great Infrastructure Challenge

In the U.S. – and greater world – meeting our rising infrastructure demands will require an industry-wide commitment to innovation and collaboration with both national and local governments. Only together, can we address what really matters – providing safe and reliable infrastructure for our communities. 

 Have thoughts about how we can improve infrastructure? Share your comments below. 

Dustin DeVan

Dustin DeVan

Dustin DeVan is Construction Industry Strategist and Evangelist at Autodesk Construction Solutions and Co-Founder of BuildingConnected.

Founded in 2012, BuildingConnected has built a network of more than 900,000 construction professionals, helping real estate owners and general contractors find and hire qualified contractors for their projects. BuildingConnected joined Autodesk in 2018, adding bid management, risk analysis, and other preconstruction solutions to Autodesk’s construction portfolio.

Prior to founding BuildingConnected, Dustin worked as an engineer, scheduler, estimator, and project manager for 6 years in commercial construction. He has held roles at some of the largest construction companies in the country.

Dustin's construction experience includes large-scale, complex projects such as the $80 million medical office building for Kaiser Permanente, the $6 billion Las Vegas City Center, HP's headquarters in Palo Alto, Western Digital’s Class 10 clean room expansion, and a $700 million coal-fired power plant in Texas.

Dustin holds two Bachelor of Science degrees from the University of California, Davis, in Mechanical Engineering, and Aeronautical Science and Engineering.

1 comment

  • There is no question that infrastructure matters a whole lot. It is literally the backbone of the economy, necessary to sustain growth and the quality of life. It opens the door to better jobs, timely health care, and specialized education. Thank you so much for sharing this great article, Dustin.