Modeling software helps Wisconsin city respond to project changes

Case Studies
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The city of Beloit, Wis., with a population approaching 37,000, is located on the southern border of the state on the banks of the Rock River. The city holds a lively riverfront development, vibrant residential neighborhoods, a historic downtown and thriving business districts. Its downtown renovation and continuing economic redevelopment are hallmarks of the city’s rebirth, enticing new businesses to relocate and fueling residential growth.

All of that growth is keeping the city’s engineering division very busy.

Staffed by five engineers, three aides and two GIS professionals, the division is responsible for providing design, plan, review and inspection services related to capital improvement projects.

“Our biggest challenges are changing project priorities and schedules,” said Michael Flesch, city engineer. “We’re involved with a lot of economic development projects, which have many different stakeholders. We need to be reactive and accommodating to those interests, particularly when it comes to new or potential commercial development projects.”

With so many stakeholders, it’s common for a project to be nearly done and then face sudden changes in schedule timeframe and the scope of work. The engineering division needs to respond quickly and so does its civil engineering software.

AutoCAD Land Desktop software had been the solution for many years, but in 2005, the city considered upgrading the software or moving to a different software platform. The division decided to go with AutoCAD Civil 3D .

“We felt that in the long run, [the software] would make us more efficient and more productive,” Flesch said.

However, the software’s model-based approach to design and documentation, which differs from the old software, would make for a bumpy transition.

Planning the Transition

The engineering division waded right into the migration. “We decided to go ‘cold turkey’ and move all our users and all our work to [the new software] all at once,” said Luke Arnold, project engineer for the division.

“This was money well spent,” Flesch said. “Without this level of preparation, the transition wouldn’t have been as successful as it was.”

Training began with a two-day, on-site refresher class, followed by a four-day introductory training class for the new software. The class was customized to meet the divison’s needs and focused on just the areas needed for its project types.

Correcting design errors quickly

One of the first projects that the engineering division tackled using the software was the design of a new 1,150-ft roadway called Sager Lane, which was located in an existing industrial park. The project included the design and construction of the concrete road; curbs and gutters; sidewalks; and sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water mains.

Although the original project was formed using the old software, it was migrated to the new software, allowing the group to pick up where the design had been left off.

“The project itself wasn’t all that technically challenging,” Flesch said, “except that a few days before construction was scheduled to start, a major mistake was discovered. The right-of-way we used was off by 10 ft.” The roadway was designed to fit inside an 80-ft right-of-way, but just before construction, a surveyor noticed that his plat showed a right-of-way of 70 ft.

“I went into scramble mode, called the survey crew and told them that the information we sent them was bad, and I would send them a new set of plans by the end of the day,” Arnold said.

The road design was mistakenly offset from the real center of the right-of-way, and the sidewalk was completely outside it. “I had to go back and redesign all of the storm sewer piping, water mains and road alignment to move everything over 10 ft, and then I had to realign the sidewalk to be 5 ft closer to the back of the curb to fit within the 70-ft right-of-way,” Arnold explained. But at that point, the contractor was already moving equipment to the site, so time was limited.

“Using [the new software], it took me about 3 ½ hours to redesign the project. That same effort would have taken at least three or four days in Land Desktop. This delay would have forced the contractor to start work on another project—impacting the start date of our project and ultimately its completion date,” Arnold said.

By the end of the day, he e-mailed the new plans, alignment data and coordinates for the structures to the contractor for his team to start staking out the correct locations. “In the end, there were no additional expenses incurred and no delays in the project,” Arnold said.

Responding to changes

Another project where the software proved useful was the design and construction of a new cul-de-sac, Kettle Way, in a local industrial park. The project involved a new 850-ft-long, 37-ft-wide urban street and the reconstruction of a 900-ft portion of an existing rural street to a 43-ft-wide urban section. The project also included design and construction of water mains and services, sanitary sewers, storm sewers and a sidewalk on one side.

“The earthwork entailed some fairly significant cuts, and we had a really short time frame to get the design work done. In fact the whole project—from concept to bid—was only six weeks,” Flesch said.

“Another challenging aspect to this project was that it included moving some of the material cut from this site and using it to cap an old wastewater treatment plant site with 2 ft of fill,” Flesch said. Because of this, the engineering division had to produce the additional documentation required by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) for the capping to demonstrate that the cap’s thickness met a 2-ft minimum.

After construction began, the owner wanted to increase the size of an additional lot at the end of the cul-de-sac, which would require a major redesign of the cul-de-sac from a balanced bulb to an offset bulb.

The software helped the engineering division meet these challenges. “We finished the original project design on time, and also used the software to determine what all the earthwork volumes were, so we knew how much cut from that project we could use for the 2-ft cap that we needed,” Arnold said.

The site of the cap was originally surveyed to determine fill requirements. After the site was capped, another survey was done to verify the thickness of the cap. The survey data was used in the software application to create a volume surface, which represented the exact difference between the original and new surfaces. The group then color coded the volume surface by depth and used a grid-pattern style to display the depth at each intersection point on the grid. “This form of presentation made it very simple for WDNR to visualize what we had done and give us closure for the site without the need for any additional documentation.” Arnold said.

The new software also helped the division accommodate Kettle Way’s late-stage design change. Many of the 20 hours required for that redesign effort were spent on conceptual design issues rather than actual drafting revisions.

“For example, I spent approximately 4 hours looking at different strategies for draining the new cul-de-sac. I changed the profiles or edge of pavement alignments seven or eight times and checked how those changes affected other parts of the design, such as pavement and gutter slopes, drainage inlet locations, driveways and slope intercepts,” Arnold said.

The engineering division is now using DWFTM files to share digital design information with developers, surveyors, contractors and other constituents in the construction process or review cycle that do not use the software.

On a recent project the group uploaded DWF versions of plans, allowing the local utility company to review the design and check the impact on existing power poles. The group is also starting to share topographic and alignment data with surveyors for better workflow efficiency.

Since early 2006, Beloit’s engineering division has standardized AutoCAD Civil 3D , and six users have worked on more than 22 projects.

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