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New Mexico DOT Launches Virtual Road Planning

Later this year, the New Mexico Department of Transportation will utilize 3-D modeling software for road and highway design projects across the state.

The phrase “planning for the road ahead” is something the New Mexico Department of Transportation (DOT) takes literally, as part of the department’s duties require developing roads and highways while keeping costs and environmental concerns in mind during the planning stages.
 
The New Mexico DOT oversees the planning, design, construction and maintenance of 30,000 lane miles of highways, 3,500 bridges as well as the state's transit and rail operations.To assist with the development of infrastructure projects, the department will roll out cloud-based building information modeling software later this year to generate 3-D visualizations of proposed projects. 

The DOT will primarily be using AutoCAD Civil 3D 2013, developed by Autodesk. According to David Fagerman, the transportation and utilities technical manager for Autodesk, the 3-D application accommodates GIS technology – a functionality that will honor coordinate systems in the planning process. Because the software is GIS-based, DOT staff in New Mexico will be able to generate 3-D prototypes, build construction sequencing and run analysis of “what if” scenarios on projects that range in size. 
 
“We want to prepare for emerging trends: machine-guided construction out in the field and the ability to use GIS data sets," said Silas Salazar, a computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) manager for the New Mexico DOT. "Historically we haven’t had that ability in the transportation engineering field,”  Salazar added.

Supporting automated machine guidance using the software is expected to help speed up the overall construction process, which in turn helps reduce labor time and the costs of machine fuel needed for the project, according to Autodesk.

Physically moving earth in and out of project sites gets costly, Salazar said. Truck drivers must be hired to move the dirt, and fuel is needed for the trucks. In addition, finding a location to move the excess dirt can also present challenges.
 
“One of the things that we say in the engineering world is dirt is cheap until you have to move it somewhere,” Salazar said.

Through the 3-D modeling and calculations performed in the software, the agency can fine-tune the process of measuring dirt and other construction material, preventing costly miscalculations before they happen.

But although projects aren’t expected to broadly utilize Autodesk’s building information modeling software until mid-2013, the New Mexico DOT has used other Autodesk products in the past. The DOT recently generated 3-D visualizations for a roadway rehabilitation project.

In 2009, graduate students from Stanford University in California developed a prototype of a recyclable laptop complete with removable parts with the assistance of modeling software.

Photo: This 3-D rendered model was developed using Autodesk Infrastructure Modeler software for the I-10/I-25 interchange reconstruction project in Las Cruces, N.M. Courtesy of the New Mexico Department of Transportation. 

Sarah Rich is a former staff writer for Government Technology.
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