Chicago, Seattle Streamline Construction Projects on New Platform

With the goals of minimizing impacts to the traveling public and lowering overall costs, some cities are turning toward a project management platform for better outcomes.

by / November 21, 2017

Realizing that the longer work crews occupy the public right-of-way, the greater the cost, and potential for accidents and delays for residents, two of the nation’s more urban cities are using an application that lets them partner with the private industry to save time and money as they plan construction projects.

The app, dotMaps, was first used by Chicago in 2015, then deployed in Seattle in August, and is reportedly being rolled out in two other U.S. cities. Its development has also informed the creation of another asset management and work order distribution tool, Atom, which debuted in January, according to a representative of the software company behind both.

It’s a creation of Los Angeles-area software company SADA Systems, which has considerable competition in this space.

Waze’s Connected Citizens Program also makes use of municipal data to educate agencies and residents about incidents, road closures, construction and special events. Redlands-based Esri too offers production mapping solutions aimed at managing workflows.

Microsoft and Google, in turn, partner with companies including Esri, and integrate with a variety of solutions.

SADA Systems is also close to Google, but its dotMaps integrates with Microsoft and Esri mapping solutions as well, to create a visualization that looks familiar and intuitive, said Patrick Skoglund, SADA System's Google Maps Practice lead.

Its performance is also layered, with a workflow that’s customizable by city but revolves around a map, letting users filter data via mapping, dashboard and calendar tools to display locations, moratoriums, special events and permitting.

The app tracks project information, which can be entered by public-sector staffers or private industry officials at, for example, utility companies — whose clearance and visibility levels can be set by the agency.

Then, when a “conflict” emerges — such as two entities with plans to build or dig in the same spot at the same time — the cloud-based app notifies all involved and suggests a conflict resolution. Officials have the ability to watch it all, and where needed, urge those involved to work it out. Skoglund compared its ease of use to Uber and Google Maps.

“There’s always been a common need of ‘Why doesn’t this exist in the enterprise space,’” he said. “So, how do we take that same set of adopted user experiences and put that into an enterprise-based solution for the state and local market?”

COLLABORATION IN CHICAGO

The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) created its Project Coordination Office (PCO) in 2012 with private-sector collaboration, during a time of record infrastructure build, according to George Keck, a program manager at Collins Engineers Inc., and the PCO.

Wanting to do more to coordinate construction than was possible with spreadsheets and a database, the city ultimately chose SADA’s solution for its ability to work with existing workflows, avoid repetitive code writing and build out reporting at the touch of a button.

“It’s the ease of use, the powerfulness of the tool, the ability to cross-collaborate with multiple utilities. We’re talking hundreds of thousands of permits and thousands of projects and special events that we’re coordinating,” Keck said, comparing dotMaps’ look, feel and search functionality to Gmail.

Specific areas of visualization include building and street closure permits, bus stops, zoning, parcel data and tax increment financing districts.

The city migrated agencies including its transportation, building and cultural affairs departments to dotMaps and has since been joined by the Illinois Department of Transportation and representatives of 26 different utilities.

Total user numbers have climbed from about a dozen initially to around 800, Keck said. On the public side, this includes everyone from commissioners to aldermen.

Chicago hasn’t done an independent analysis to determine savings attributable to dotMaps, but estimates its PCO has generated a savings of more than $100 million — a portion of which would be linked to dotMaps.

Keck said the agency works with parties involved in construction to ensure the financial burden of rebuilding and repaving the right-of-way is evenly shared when multiple utilities are involved. He credited dotMaps with facilitating this process.

The program manager said he thinks dotMaps can scale down for smaller sized jurisdictions, but in Chicago’s case, it has proved capable of enabling communication with the state DOT via the overlay of street surfacing progress data and the city’s pavement condition index.

COORDINATION IN SEATTLE

Like Chicago, Seattle is experiencing record development, and has 79 tower cranes currently aloft — believed to be more than any other city in North America except Toronto. In 2015, voters also approved the $930 million, nine-year Levy to Move Seattle, which will generate funding to improve traveler safety, maintain streets and bridges and invest in reliable, affordable travel options.

Seeking a way to better coordinate all of that activity, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Director Scott Kubly, a former CDOT managing deputy commissioner, brought dotMaps to Seattle’s attention.

Heather Marx, manager of SDOT’s project and construction coordination office, said the application was chosen following an RFP based on cost and performance. Implementation, including internal and external costs, was around $1 million, which included internal project management resources for 11 months.

With the solution in place, SDOT is able to look in on construction taking place in three hubs around the city, planning anywhere from six months to five years out — while scheduling work around major events.

Where previously public and private partners had to update SDOT’s database through spreadsheet uploads, now the agency works with SADA to use spatial analysis to find areas of intense time and right-of-way conflicts before they become costly in terms of time and money.

“If you have to dig a 20-foot hole and you have to dig a three-foot hole, dig the 20-foot hole first,” Marx said, praising the simplicity and beauty of the visualization. “Now, every project manager can and does enter their own data and update their own data. And many project managers will also resolve their own conflict.”

By using dotMaps, partners achieved a combined savings of more than $780,000 during September and October, nearly $500,000 of that realized by SDOT. In a statement, Kubly praised the resulting communications improvements, but also the tool's service “as a valuable mechanism to minimize the effects of road work on the public.”

“One of the beautiful things about the whole system is that as more and more cities use it, the functionality is just going to get richer and richer at a product level. I think SADA learned a lot from working with Chicago, and so we got to benefit from that,” Marx said.

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.