New Infrastructure Tool Assesses Contract Prices


A researcher at the University of Texas at Arlington is reportedly working to develop a price estimation and visualization tool for the Texas Department of Transportation to assess and price contracts for major infrastructure works.

According to the university’s release, Mohsen Shandashti, an associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, is leading a team to develop the tool under a $200,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

About the Research

The release states that the new research came from the idea that due to the state's size and diverse soil, this could cause supply chain delays, climate differences, material and labor cost differences, among others, when planning the budget for a highway project.

“The unit price will be different in Amarillo than in the Rio Grande Valley or in Houston or in North Texas,” Shahandashti stated.

“How much a cubic foot of concrete costs in those different locales varies greatly. This tool will help TxDOT issue the right costs for a certain project in a certain part of Texas.”

Shahandashti added that the varied soil is a great example of how different Texas is from other parts of the country.

“The amount of clay in the soil in northeast Texas is much greater than in some coastal areas, where there is mostly sandy soil,” Shahandashti said.

“How to build in that soil has an impact on the overall cost of a project, especially when the huge diversity in precipitation levels is also considered. Accurate cost estimations lead to accurate planning and on-budget construction.”

Shahandashti reportedly plans to integrate any historical data with some factors affecting unit prices in order to provide more accurate estimates.

“Then we’ll make geographic information system applications and visualizations,” Shahandashti said. “From that, we’ll visualize estimates.”

Mahmut Yasar, a UT Arlington professor of economics, is co-principal investigator on the project.

“Specifying and using appropriate econometric models is important for accurate unit price estimates,” said Yasar, who is also reportedly a Goolsby-Jacqualyn A. Fouse Endowed Chair and Distinguished Teaching Professor.

“Applying these methods to estimate prices can help improve project cost assessments and investment decisions” 

The release adds that econometrics is a form of economics using economic theory and statistical and mathematical methods to study real-world data.

Melanie Sattler, chair and professor of the Department of Civil Engineering, said Shahandashti’s grant could make highways projects in Texas more efficient.

“It is a far-reaching grant that could touch all corners of Texas,” she said. “Not only can it ease TxDOT’s burden, but also avoid projects’ cost overruns and decrease their duration in the future.”

Related News

In September of last year, Texas Governor Greg Abbot announced the advancement of a record $85 billion statewide roadway construction plan through the Texas Department of Transportation. The 2023 Unified Transportation Program (UTP) was a 10-year plan that would guide the development of transportation work across Texas. 

Organized into 12 funding categories, the UTP authorized the distribution of construction dollars expected to be available over the next decade. Projects were selected by TxDOT alongside elected officials, local planning organizations and the public to fund the state’s highest priority transportation projects.

According to the release, the 2023 UTP reflected an “unprecedented” level of projected transportation funding to improve transportation safety, address congestion and rural connectivity and preserve roadways for drivers.

The state reported that many of the projects in the UTP plan are roadway segments identified on Texas’ 100 Most Congested Roadways list and critical connectivity corridors. Projects would reportedly be funded through legislative and voter-approved initiatives that allocated portions of oil and gas taxes, sales taxes and other money to the state highway fund.

Funds would reportedly coincide with an additional $32 billion over the life of the program for routine maintenance contracts and project development. This included planning, professional engineering and right-of-way acquisition for more than 7,000 transportation projects and a total investment of $117 billion statewide.

Additionally, the average annual investment programmed into the plan in the next 10 years was expected to yield estimated $15.5 billion per year in economic benefits, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. An estimated 58,500 direct and indirect jobs were also anticipated to increase labor income and business output.

Also, earlier on in May 2022, TxDOT announced that road infrastructure projects were being impacted by construction material shortages and cost increases, causing delays and driving up project expenses.

According to the agency’s project tracker, TxDOT was working on more than 15,700 projects totaling $157 billion. About half of the projects were reportedly underway or scheduled to start soon.

Factors like rising petroleum costs, COVID-related shutdowns, increase for material demand and a worker shortage were all driving up prices for road-building materials like steel and concrete. The memo, issued by TxDOT also outlined points for contractors to consider to mitigate issues and keep projects moving:

  • Material on hand;
  • Quantity increase;
  • Price increases due to TxDOT delay;
  • Substitutions;
  • Item deletions;
  • Delayed starts;
  • Avoid sole sourcing;
  • Time considerations; and
  • Last resort (referring to TxDOT for further consideration).

A TxDOT spokesperson told reporters that it was too soon to say how inflation and material shortages could affect the timing or cost of the I-35 Capital Express project, a plan to widen the interstate by adding additional lanes. The estimated cost of the expansion was $5.7 billion with $4.9 billion of that paying for the central portion from Ben White Boulevard to U.S. Highway 290 East.


Tagged categories: Colleges and Universities; Construction; Department of Transportation (DOT); Government; Infrastructure; Infrastructure; Inspection; Labor; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Research and development; Roads/Highways; Technology; Tools & Equipment; Transportation

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