It’s no secret the need for sustainable and resilient infrastructure is becoming more urgent every year. In fact, industry experts predict that the world will have to invest $90 trillion in sustainable infrastructure by 2030 to truly combat climate change. However, this push for green infrastructure has proven to be a slow process. Currently, infrastructure construction and operations—more specifically, motor vehicles—account for approximately 70% of all global emissions.
To prepare ourselves, infrastructure agencies can utilize advanced digital technology to make quality, resilient and eco-friendly infrastructure practical now. With a critical eye toward climate change, technology can play a more impactful role in addressing sustainability, durability and even disaster recovery.
It can do this by not only offering innovative 21st-century, green transportation options but, more specifically, through how the infrastructure construction and maintenance industry uses materials and infuses resilient design concepts in infrastructure projects. Along with this, it can build stronger public faith and assurance that major goals are being met and funds are well spent by improving transparency. Digital technology can significantly improve and streamline project operations, as well as transform how we use data to improve the construction process.
Responsible Use Of Materials
With the recent passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), there will be an infusion of $1.2 trillion into the nation’s infrastructure, leading to a significant increase in the number of projects and, therefore, the need for materials. Although this bill is a monumental and critical step for our country, it’s important that the construction and development of infrastructure are done efficiently, being mindful of the use of materials.
Although recycling materials is an important part of construction and demolition (C&D), it still leads to a significant amount of waste. In 2018, C&D projects generated 600 million tons of waste debris. And it’s predicted that the volume of construction waste generated worldwide will nearly double to 2.2. billion tons by the year 2025.
Currently, up to 30% of the building materials from construction sites end up as waste. To prevent this waste across infrastructure projects, transportation agencies and their partners should consider using technology to track the use of materials, ensuring their quality and minimizing waste. Real-time data directly from job sites, accessible through cloud-based solutions, can inform important decisions around materials and budget. Additionally, with this insight, mistakes can be caught early, reducing the impact on budget and lessening material waste.
Improving Climate Resilience And Disaster Recovery
In addition to the challenges of managing large-scale infrastructure projects, transportation agencies face the difficulties and destruction caused by extreme weather events. In 2021 alone, the U.S. spent approximately $145 billion on 20 separate weather and climate disaster events. Resilient infrastructure will be critical in minimizing the impacts of the increasing severity of natural disasters.
The IIJA is making a major investment in climate resilience. According to Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, “Extreme weather events caused by climate change have become more severe and more frequent, causing not only danger to our communities but widespread economic impact, with the financial loss to American taxpayers from extreme weather events totaling more than $100.4 billion in 2020.”
Technology such as drones and inspection platforms can enable disaster recovery responders to survey and prioritize infrastructure impacted by catastrophes more efficiently. It could also play a critical role in developing and maintaining infrastructure that’s more likely to withstand natural events and ensure longevity through routine maintenance.
Digital twins are another innovative technology that can be used to create an exact replica of a project during its construction. A digital twin can also continue to be updated throughout its lifecycle. This allows maintenance crews to easily track damages and necessary repairs, helping ensure structural safety and longevity.
Enabling Data-Driven Transparency
The IIJA has set ambitious climate-focused goals, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, ensuring the resiliency of our infrastructure and creating clean public transportation systems. But with years of projects ahead, trillions in funding and countless partners, how can the public be sure the goals of the bill are being achieved?
It’s not uncommon for many projects to still be managed and tracked on pen and paper. This industry has “lagged behind other industries in embracing digital technology to improve operations and realise efficiencies.” But the consistent capture of data from job sites and tracking of decisions throughout the construction process can help create unprecedented transparency and accountability. And with transparency and accountability, stakeholder confidence follows.
As top-performing organizations are now deploying and embracing tools to increase productivity, improve efficiency and safety and reduce costs on major capital projects, they can also use them to track their progress against the IIJA’s goals. Consistent and reliable reporting can help confirm infrastructure is constructed safely, efficiently and in a manner that tracks with the IIJA’s broader goals.
The Climate Is Right
The infrastructure industry is in a unique position to act on sustainability initiatives with the power of leading-edge and innovative technology to monitor and address materials longevity, infuse and maintain resilient design principles throughout all project phases and build data transparency and stronger public perception that tax dollars are being well spent. Doing so can help assure a brighter future and ensure that the longevity of the nation’s infrastructure will be based on efficiencies and tools that avoid wasting dollars, time and materials.
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