Potential solutions provided by a life cycle assessment of transportation infrastructure based on building information modeling
Transport infrastructure maintenance is an important task of local government: Roads not only have to be safe, they must also be economical to operate and maintain. An important aspect of this is sustainability. Steinbeis experts Dr. Ute Stöckner and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Markus Stöckner, who look at issues relating to the sustainability of municipal roads and highways as part of their work at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Infrastructure Management in Transportation, explain what local authorities can do to react to all these changes.
Systematically planning maintenance has emerged as a technical imperative in recent years. Systematically adhering to a methodical approach automatically entails becoming involved in asset management. One effective way to consider the entire life cycle of a project and map processes is to use building information modeling (BIM).
One of the first steps when conducting a life cycle assessment of road networks, especially on a municipal level, is to consider the importance of individual streets to a city. This is because even without additional land use, the requirements that existing traffic routes need to meet tend to change over time, especially when a district becomes more industrialized or shifts towards more commercial use, and this will also happen if an existing residential area is redeveloped. When this happens, one must examine the technical requirements a road has to fulfill.
In many urban areas, the infrastructure requirements of road users are intensifying, resulting in conflicting interests, especially where financial resources are tight. Bus and car passengers want to reach their destination quickly and conveniently, local residents don’t want to have to listen to loud traffic, and cyclists would like – whenever possible – direct travel routes, smooth road surfaces, and to not have to brake the whole time. As for the utility companies supplying and treating water, gas, and electricity, or providing telecommunication networks – they need to be able to quickly fill up holes again after digging up roads.
ROADS ARE MUCH MORE THAN TRAFFIC ROUTES
Understanding sustainability therefore means considering a number of factors. From an ecological standpoint, a network for bicycles helps promote environmental protection by fostering a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. From a socio-cultural standpoint, roads are part of public life and they have a significant impact on the image and appearance of a city district. Ideally, the people who live in an area transcend different social groups and this can have a number of influences, including whether it would be reasonable to ask local taxpayers to fund repairs. This will make it necessary to consider the specific situation within a local area and state legislation regarding municipal funding. From an economic standpoint, sustainable road maintenance must secure infrastructure funding and ensure that any measures introduced are not only appropriate in technical terms but also commercially viable. Consideration has to be given not only to any potential to save money by coordinating measures, but also to traffic flow if there are diversions.
THE IDEAL SOLUTION: A HOLISTIC APPROACH
For Markus Stöckner, the solution to all these challenges is obvious: “A life cycle assessment – because the approach of looking at sustainable infrastructure management takes a holistic view of transportation infrastructures, throughout the entire period of use.” This approach starts by looking at planning requirements as a basis for working out the individual stages within the life cycle of a road, from drafting planning documents to construction, starting to operate and use roads, and even the maintenance requirements and replacing roads. This makes it possible to work out and highlight any overlaps between different types of stakeholders, plus who will need to supply which information to whom and at which point in time. When you reach the next step, all required information will be available without any loss of know-how.
Other stakeholders that will need to be involved in municipal road construction – over and above the local authorities and the subcontractors of the construction contractor – are the utility and waste disposal companies, and private owners of real estate developments, because they are also affected by road infrastructures when going about their business. As more and more parties intervene in the infrastructure, this highlights how important it is to ensure that everything is systematically documented, capturing when, where, and how something happened. This is also so that the right decisions can be made later down the line.
Similarly, this applies not only to environmental issues affecting road repairs (especially if old road surfaces need to be recycled), but also the quality requirements of new construction materials that will need to be processed. The experts at the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Infrastructure Management in Transportation help their clients ascertain which information to gather for each individual stage of a life cycle assessment. They also provide support in determining how and in which areas information will need to be shared with others, plus the quality requirements that will need to be considered in each area of overlap. The Steinbeis experts advise a variety of local and regional authorities on accessing existing sources of information, also helping to plug any gaps identified in knowledge or documentation. Looking at existing processes makes it possible to continually base the approach taken toward systematic maintenance management on future needs.
“As a result, we achieve a much better understanding of different aspects relating to construction work and services, and this also takes local factors into consideration. It also helps us improve the forecasts used to estimate the duration of future life cycles,” explains Stöckner. This simplifies the planning of road repair programs and how they’re financed, which in turn makes it possible to make road maintenance more economical. Using BIM methods to conduct life cycle assessments thus makes an essential contribution to sustainable infrastructure management.