It’s Infrastructure Week and while we’re not physically traveling, we’ve been taking a “trip” across the US this week for our Virtual Travel Series. In our series, we’ve been spotlighting the incredible people behind some of our nation’s most important transportation projects. Today, we end up in Albuquerque, New Mexico to talk to Priscilla Benavides, Central Region Design Manager at New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT).
NMDOT is a state government organization which oversees transportation in the entire state. The agency has four main focuses—transit, rail, aviation, and highways. As DOTs go, NMDOT is on the leading edge of innovation and embraces new technology and software to better serve its communities. In her role, Priscilla is responsible for ensuring projects are delivered safely and efficiently. Today, she is helping to deliver the state’s first e-construction project for I-40 reconstruction. Below, she shares more about her role at NMDOT, how she leverages technology and partnerships to improve collaboration, and how her team is adapting to new and remote work environments.
Tell us about your role at NMDOT. What’s your day to day like?
I am the Central Region Design Manager for NMDOT and I oversee project development within the Central Part of New Mexico. In my role, I ensure safe transportation systems with efficient designs are delivered to the citizens of New Mexico.
I manage a $60 million program and the day to day involves supervising a team of engineers and technicians. Under the current COVID environment, all direct communication is accomplished remotely through Microsoft Teams’ meetings or phone calls. In order to ensure budgets and schedules are being met, I am in constant communication with my group. Although my entire day is behind the computer these days, technology allows us to constantly collaborate and coordinate.
Tell us more about your work on one of the projects you’re working on. Why has this been an exciting project to work on?
Currently my crew and I have volunteered to deliver New Mexico’s first e-construction project for I-40 Reconstruction. At NMDOT, we define e-construction as the collection, review, approval, and distribution of highway construction contract documents in a paperless environment. This project has been extremely exciting as it has posed new challenges.
My ultimate goal is to both design and build completely in 3D. It is my personal goal to move all of our projects towards this future through e-construction. In addition to the new challenges, the collaboration with other agencies such as Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and technology partners such as Autodesk and ATG has been exciting.
In the development of our e-construction project on I-40, we originated our model in AutoCAD Civil 3D and brought it into BIM to share with the design team. BIM is a new tool for us, and so far we have used it for plan review, collaboration, and document control in design development.
What makes working on transportation projects unique and fulfilling to work on?
Working in transportation and program delivery is a passion of mine. I truly enjoy the work and the unique challenges that every project brings. There is no such thing as a cookie cutter project. Each one is unique in terms of scope of work changes, project needs, and stakeholders and partners involved. Lastly, and my least favorite aspect, politics are constantly changing.
With our e-construction project, alot of the excitement comes in challenging the status quo by bringing in new software and changing the stale process in which we have been operating under for years.
What has your experience been like working on infrastructure projects during COVID?
BIM has greatly assisted with working from home during COVID. In fact, our e-construction project was the only project that didn’t have any unnecessary delays due to the fact it is web based and everyone had access to the project as long as they had internet access. Eventually all other projects within my region caught up with the use of Microsoft Teams and the ability to share screens.
As for the new safety protocols, the masks can be a minor annoyance, of course, but we all understand they are necessary. We still have some work to do from a training and development side, especially for entry level CADD users. I am a firm believer that a hybrid schedule of working from home and at the office – so we could conduct more in-depth meetings and in-person trainings – would be the best for my entire crew in the future.
What is one essential thing that you would take with you on a road trip?
The one essential thing I would take on a road trip would have to be my smartphone. I couldn’t travel without being able to access emails and the internet, take pictures, and receive and make calls.
What’s one place you cannot wait to travel to once things get back to some normalcy?
I look forward to not only watching my son play soccer but traveling to neighboring states for his tournaments.