Software Improves IDOT’s Highway Construction Scheduling

In 2011, in response to a need by the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) for more accurate highway construction schedules, researchers working on behalf of the Illinois Center for Transportation (ICT) developed a software tool, the Illinois Construction Scheduling Expert System (ICSES). The tool contains a variety of road and bridge project templates and calculators that provide guidance in scheduling construction activities, taking into consideration such factors as project location, weather trends, and schedule constraints.

In 2013, a second phase of the project, titled Enhancements to the Highway Construction Expert System, Phase 2 (R27-135), was initiated to improve ICSES’s functionality in assisting design engineers working on IDOT projects to develop better estimates of time, which will benefit the traveling public by potentially reducing lengthy construction impacts and costs.

ICT researchers collected data on IDOT construction projects and production rates based on project type and size, ranging from new bridge construction to roadway patching and resurfacing. These enhancements are expected to improve the accuracy of the scheduling tool, which will help ensure efficient use of construction dollars and deliver projects in shorter, more predictable time frames.

Co-principal investigators on the project are Dianne Slattery, director of Missouri State University’s Center for Project Innovation and Management Education, and Kerry Slattery, assistant professor in MSU’s Department of Technology and Construction Management. Slattery and Slattery also served as co-principal investigators on the first phase of the project, An Expert Systems Approach to Highway Construction Scheduling (R27-086). That project was nationally recognized as an AASHTO Sweet 16 High Value Research Project in 2012. Those awards showcase research projects that provide transportation excellence through research.

Ted Nemsky, Construction Engineer for IDOT District 8, chairs the Technical Review Panel that’s directing the second phase of the ICSES project. He explains the significance of this project and the scheduling tool: “The administration of time limits on construction contracts depends on developing accurate time estimates. Underestimating the amount of time required to complete a project means that the contractor must include additional costs in his or her bid to cover any monetary damages, such as the cost of overtime work, that could be incurred if a project takes longer to complete than originally estimated.” If the contractor takes longer to do the work, he adds, there is also an unnecessary impact on road users.

One of the enhancements to the tool, says Nemsky, was to make it more user friendly. Another enhancement was to update IDOT’s construction work effort production rates and provide that information as expert advice to the users of the software. The second phase of the project also includes statewide training for IDOT design staff.