Why a Living 3D Model Is an Indispensable City Planning Tool
In a moment of nostalgia, Alan Riekki, Las Vegas city surveyor, contemplates all the infrastructure data that has vanished in the nearly 108 years since the city’s founding.
“I shudder to think of the information that we’ve had … that has been lost with the institutional knowledge that has retired or passed away,” he said.
That won’t happen any longer.
With the help of Las Vegas-based VTN Consulting and Autodesk, the city is moving ahead with 3D modeling of above-ground and below-ground infrastructure that will allow surveyors, engineers, city planners, utilities, public works personnel and anyone else who might need it access to vast stores of data in the cloud.
After a successful downtown pilot program, VTN Consulting is working with the city to connect that infrastructure from “the 95”—the Bruce Woodbury Beltway—along Las Vegas Boulevard to Sahara Avenue. The model will include all the streets that intersect Las Vegas Boulevard. Even though that distance is only about two miles, the new project is six times larger than the original 1.5-mile pilot program, said VTN’s Keith Warren, the company’s building information modeling (BIM) manager.
City leaders wanted a system that shows urban development, where the best areas for a park, a townhome development or a casino might be sited.
“It seems like every time we talk to the city, they’re bringing somebody in from a different department and (that) somebody else has a value that they can plug into it,” Warren said. “It keeps on growing; things you would never think of. People want to be able to use it.”
The city is using Autodesk 360 Infrastructure Modeler (AIM 360), Autodesk Civil 3D and Autodesk Navisworks Manage software. VTN has helped the city build its 3D models. City designers are adding 30-year-old paper and 2D designs into the software to create a living document that can be accessed and updated over time.
The city model can alleviate problems and save the city money in the long run. Already, BIM for infrastructure helped engineers identify a conflict with another utility line in a storm drain consultant's design.
“It’s a brave new world,” Riekki said. “We’re trying to change our mindset about everything we do all over the city. We’re finding that there are all kinds of information that different (departments) have gathered up but not put into a georeferenced database before.”
Due to that changing mindset and the investment the city has put into Autodesk products, Las Vegas is requiring that all projects citywide be on its horizontal control system and use Autodesk modeling in 3D, so that design plans can be integrated into the city’s database. This is creating what engineers call “building a patchwork” across the city or “quilting the city together.” In time, perhaps as little as five years, the city expects to have a substantial amount of infrastructure data above and below ground.
“It should make for seamless coordination between adjacent projects,” said Mike Kinney, City of Las Vegas land survey associate. “When (contractors and the city are) both on the same system, they’ll fit together quite well. And it makes that data reusable in the future when we come back to that same area. It’s all ready to go. It doesn’t have to be moved, scaled and rotated into play. … Just about everything that we’re putting into this (system) is data we were going to get anyway. We’re just making sure that it’s done in a way that will fit in the model without being massaged.”
The software has already saved the city a significant amount of time, Riekki said, but the financial savings is hard to quantify because it reduces potential problems—not problems that have actually occurred.
“It’s frustrating to get surveying and (pothole data) in an area only to be back in that area in five or six years. It seems like the process has to start all over again,” he said. “When we survey an area and research and discover underground utilities, that information goes into a database that we can revisit again and again. No more digging through plan libraries and archives, trying to find as-built reports that, let’s face it, are only as accurate as the contractor. (This is) something that is survey accurate, a living repository for all that information from now on. Never again will we lose a piece of information or have it become so obscure that we have to dig it out of the library to reuse it.”
The city is also requiring surveyors to all be on the same page. In the past, surveyors in the Las Vegas valley have crunched their numbers in different ways, scaling to ground from different base points. Although that information was always accurate using GPS, Riekki said it was “accurate in and unto itself only. As long as a project was relative to its own boundary, that’s all anybody ever asked of their GPS system. Now we’re moving away from relative accuracy to absolute accuracy. So Surveying Firm A can talk to and share its information with Surveying Firm B, and we’re all coming to the same point. That’s huge.”
Part of the city’s contract with VTN Consulting includes the firm’s training of 12 city employees on Autodesk products so they can share data and train others. The relationship between the firm and the city has been beneficial, Kinney said.
Warren, who has worked with Autodesk on updating its software, said he expects BIM for infrastructure to keep growing and becoming easier to use—especially on mobile platforms.
“The software and hardware developments are creating a real-world situation that allows you to take a 3D georeferenced model and actually upload it to your iPad, take it out in the field, view through the camera on your iPad, and it superimposes the underground utilities in that location using augmented reality, where you’re pointing the iPad down to,” he said. “It’s really kind of a cool technology.”