GIS and infrastructure improvement

February 2013 » Columns » GIS SOLUTIONS
Jeffrey Yoders

In its recently released report, the fifth and final in the "Failure to Act" series, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) examines the effect of a cumulative failure of two or more infrastructure types due to underfunding and lack of maintenance. The report analyzes the interactive effect of investment gaps in differing infrastructure sectors, such as surface transportation (highways and interstates), airports, and the electrical grid. It presents an overall picture of the national economic opportunity associated with infrastructure investment and the consequences of failing to fill that investment gap.

One of its most illustrative takeaways is how a failure in any sector – water delivery and wastewater treatment, surface transportation, electricity, inland waterways, and marine ports – affects all of the other ones. For example, investment in ports to bring in goods and services is meaningless if the highway system is insufficient to get those goods to the consumers. ASCE warns that if the investment gap is not addressed throughout the nation's infrastructure sectors by 2020, the economy could lose as much as $1 trillion in business sales, resulting in a loss of 3.5 million jobs.

"It is clear that there is an interactive effect between different infrastructure sectors and a cumulative impact of an ongoing investment gap in multiple infrastructure systems." – American Society of Civil Engineers' report: "Failure to Act: The Impact of Current Infrastructure Investment on America's Economic Future"

While there are some excellent recommendations on how to fund infrastructure investment included in the report, one strategy that would help with modernizing our aging infrastructure is using a GIS to gain insight into local or national funding gaps and how to mitigate the damage that can be caused by those gaps on a local, state, and national level.

Infrastructure networks are physical networks, and thus each has an x and y. Every electrical grid, airport network, and even highway system depends on geographic information represented by x and y coordinates on a map. GIS is the science of x and y coordinates. Understanding economic opportunity in an infrastructure design-build workflow can thus be a GIS problem, from a strategic to tactical understanding.

Strategically, painting an accurate, real-to-life picture of the multiple funding sources in various infrastructure projects in any given geographic area can be accomplished with a GIS. Showing a shortfall in funding from one funding source can be used to explain the need to other private or public fundraisers. This type of GAP analysis can be used to explain to stakeholders why projects have not been completed or where the area of need is greatest. Recovery.gov is a website that details spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It was built using Esri GIS technology as the most efficient means of communication from tabular data to geographic understanding, including recipient projects. Geographic and financial information can easily be communicated to stakeholders in any project using a GIS in this manner.

Tactically, GIS should not be looked at as a replacement for CAD. Using CAD or 3D building information modeling (BIM) for a building project is not in any way limited by using GIS. It is, rather, enhanced by it as GIS gives project managers detail that goes beyond an individual CAD or BIM model, especially for campus projects with multiple buildings, roads, and utility lines. Viewing the project in its entirety via x,y coordinates gives a project manager more information than a single entity model.

"Failure to Act: The Impact of Current Infrastructure Investment on America's Economic Future" effectively shows the incremental and gradual decline of infrastructure systems under present investment scenarios. Utilizing GIS technology as both a funding transparency and a project management tool can help reverse the negative impacts on the national economy predicted by the report and help unlock the economic benefits of infrastructure investment.

Read the complete article at www.zweigwhite.com/GISSolutions Read the ASCE's "Failure to Act" reports at www.asce.org/failuretoact

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