With infrastructure investment falling behind the growing demand for services, innovative and smart ways are being devised to optimize the use of existing assets from road, rail and buildings to water and power utilities writes Richard Robinson, Chief Executive of AECOM’s Civil Infrastructure business in EMIA.
The much-discussed infrastructure funding gap has been estimated at around US$50 trillion. This figure, calculated by the McKinsey Global Institute, refers to the estimated spend required up to 2030, and that’s simply to keep up with projected global GDP growth. It does not address the numerous infrastructure challenges that are acting as constraints in so many economies.
As part of the response to this growing global need, one of the options is to devise smarter ways of using the infrastructure that exists.
The good news on this is that we are increasingly improving the ways we collect, analyse and use data. And as that data becomes more consistent and reliable, it evolves as an invaluable tool in the creation of innovative approaches, products and processes for boosting the productivity of countless assets.
The selection of projects here shows how AECOM teams around the world have been delivering projects that involve streamlining systems, increasing capacity, reducing the use of resources and extending potential outcomes.
1. Optimizing delivery speed
In this era of constrained public finances and growing demands for improved infrastructure, innovative funding mechanisms are offering ways to speed up the route to delivery. At New York’s LaGuardia Airport, a deal is now in place using the public-private- partnership (P3) model for replacing the Central Terminal Building — the largest P3 in American history. The work forms part of New York City’s vision to transform the airport into a world-class hub. P3 works where scarce public funds can be leveraged with billions in private capital to accelerate complex, large-scale projects with a lifecycle guarantee of delivery that is on time and within budget, and where innovation, efficiency, transparency and customer service are hallmarks. While this model is used throughout much of the world it is limited in the U.S. because it breaks the traditional approach to developing, funding, building and managing infrastructure assets. For this groundbreaking transaction, AECOM served as the P3 technical advisor in support of LaGuardia’s owner — the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
2. Optimizing flows
Smarter and safer
Making better use of the whole highway surface area to reduce congestion and keep traffic moving, smart systems are helping to avoid spending on expensive and sometimes controversial road widening schemes. Making use of the shoulder (hard shoulder in the U.K.), the all-lanes-running concept incorporates this additional road area by converting it to a permanent lane, thereby increasing capacity and journey time reliability. Cameras and electronic signs enable a controlroom- based team to make the decisions about lanes and speed limits that keep motorists moving.
In the U.K., one smart highway project converted an 11-mile stretch of the M6 motorway in a collaboration between Highways England, (HE) the U.K. body responsible for the strategic road network in England, AECOM, as designer and supervisor, and Carillion, the delivery partner. This road section carries upwards of 120,000 vehicles per day, with almost a quarter of that volume being haulage trucks.
The conversion was selected as an accelerated delivery trial project. Accelerated delivery was HE’s response to a national government initiative to speed up the delivery of better infrastructure. Fast-track delivery was facilitated by a series of workshops that brought key collaborators and stakeholders together on a regular basis. Innovative pavement engineering technologies including geotextile composite asphalt reinforcement teamed with the polymer-modified (reduced thickness) asphalt concrete to resist reflective cracking from the old pavement. These provided an optimized solution in a short time frame. Collaboration with the contractor and specialist suppliers ensured that the shoulder conversion could be delivered to meet the challenging program.
3. Optimizing lifespan
High and dry
Developed for suspension bridges in Japan, an innovative cable dehumidification process has been successful in slowing corrosion of the high tensile steel wires within the main cables of suspension bridges. This technique has the potential to optimize the structure’s performance by ensuring the main cables are able to reach the 120-year design life of these bridges.
Because suspension bridge main cables are made of thousands of individual smaller wires, it has proven to be almost impossible to keep moisture from entering the cables and causing corrosion and wire breaks. The dehumidification process involves wrapping the suspension cables with an airtight material and then fitting a series of injection sleeves to enable air which has been conditioned and dehumidified to be pumped into the cables at a relatively low pressure. This very dry air gradually replaces all of the moist air within the cables and prevents any further buildup of moist air.
This system is being fitted on almost all new suspension bridges to ensure protection at the start of a bridge’s life. It can also be retrofitted to protect existing structures. Acoustic monitoring systems and internal cable inspections can be used to monitor and slow the deterioration rate.
This system has also been used on many large and well-known bridges around the world including in the U.K. — the Tamar Bridge, Forth Road Bridge, Severn Bridge and the Humber Bridge, and in the U.S. on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. It is currently being installed on the Delaware Memorial Bridge. This technique has the potential to optimize the structure’s performance by ensuring the main cables are able to reach the 120-year design life of these bridges
4. Optimizing timing
Performance on track
When one of the world’s largest iron ore producers wanted to introduce a more accurate, efficient and scientific approach to its rail network maintenance program, it looked for a digital solution with powerful analytical capabilities. The goal was to easily process and visualize track geometry data to understand deterioration rates and maintenance improvement, which in turn would reveal facts about the track performance.
For a rail network covering hundreds of miles through remote landscapes, reliability in transporting minerals is essential to the smooth running of the mining company’s operations. In the past, assessments for new works have been carried out manually and based largely on the subjective views of track inspectors and engineers.
Providing the key to unlocking the rich data being collected from the network is a new tool called a transport analysis and modeling platform (TAMP). TAMP provides data analytics using track geometry and survey data to optimize timing of upgrades and maintenance.
Building the new web-based system started with entering historic information into the database including details about track assets, construction, mapping and track geometry data. This was then combined with survey findings such as information from core samples of the track foundations and ground penetrating radar data to assess trackbed construction. In addition, there is information about the types of traffic using the network. Once data is combined and collated, a common geospatial referencing system is applied and then a graphical display makes it possible to browse the entire system. Maintenance teams can log on wherever there is an internet connection and view, manage and analyze the data using the simple interface. It is one of the first track assessment systems to provide access via the internet for maintenance teams, and is the very first to use track geometry data to assist with analyzing earthwork failure.
5. Optimizing real estate
Boosting performance and reducing real estate
In an industry first, cognitive testing has been used to demonstrate the substantial difference an intelligent workplace can make to employee productivity. As a result of one client’s transformation project, performance rose by an impressive eight percent. It also made significant savings by reducing its office space needs.
To support the introduction of new and more effective ways of working, a new workspace strategy and design was created for the U.K.’s electricity and gas utility company, National Grid. The activity-enhancing design, known as Smart Workspace (developed by AECOM in partnership with the client), includes elements such as versatile project spaces, improved collaboration opportunities and dedicated concierges to help the building run smoothly. The AECOM team included architects, interior designers, psychologists and sociologists.
In partnership with a major U.K. university, established academic tests were used to measure creativity, cognitive flexibility and grammatical reasoning — three important aspects of performance for National Grid. Before and after surveys were also completed with employees to track perceptions of productivity. When asked, they felt their productivity had remained the same; however, the objective tests demonstrated their cognitive skills were improved in the new environment giving an eight percent uplift in performance.
“Being able to objectively measure a relationship between the physical environment and business output is a major milestone in our industry,” explains Hilary Jeffery, the project lead for AECOM. “Every organization is seeking ways to drive up performance among its teams, and this innovative testing method is important as solid evidence of the tangible financial benefits of investing in design that is tailored to support particular tasks and processes.”
In addition to this proven success, National Grid achieved annual operating cost savings of up to US$14 million (£10m) across its core U.K. estate through reduced real-estate requirements.
6. Optimizing capacity
Balancing demand and drought
The smart solution of raising the existing embankment and spillway of the Hinze Dam in Queensland, Australia, has helped solve the challenge of storing enough fresh water for the growing population in a region prone to widespread drought. In addition to boosting storage capacity, raising the 65 meter high embankment and spillway by another 15 meters also delays the release of floodwaters onto the populated floodplains during heavy rainfall.
The Hinze Dam Alliance was responsible for the design, construction and commissioning of the project. As an alliance partner AECOM undertook a range of field investigations and studies as part of the detailed design. Key design features included embankment design, intake tower raises, spillway design and outlet works upgrades. AECOM also provided design support during construction through to commissioning and hand over of the works.
Benefits achieved during the project included maintaining water supply operations during the three-year construction period, managing dam safety risks during construction, including cutting down the existing dam crest level prior to raising the embankment and managing the impact of unseasonal wet weather during construction. The project delivered a number of key innovations including the design and construction of one of Australia’s largest plastic concrete cut-off walls through the embankment with the reservoir full and the development of an innovative trap and haul fish transfer facility.