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Road and Bridge Digital Twins in Action: Four Case Studies

29 May, 2020 By: Meg Davis

Digital twins can help road agencies integrate multiple siloed data sources, track and visualize change, produce actionable insights, and more. This overview highlights examples of digital twin applications ranging from roadways to an emergency bridge replacement.

Digital twins are becoming one of the most important technology trends for transportation infrastructure because of their potential to improve design, visually enhance collaboration, and increase asset reliability and performance. Digital twins can be considered the backbone of infrastructure decision-making as they provide up-to-date information about projects, their status, and the risks associated with them. Digital twins provide civil engineers with the ability to visualize assets across their entire lifecycle to track change and to perform analysis that optimizes asset performance.

What Are Digital Twins, and Why Are They Important?

A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset, process, or system, as well as the engineering information that allows us to understand and model its performance. Plainly stated, a digital twin is a highly detailed digital model that is the counterpart — or twin — of a physical asset. Digital twins are continuously updated with data from multiple sources, which is what makes them different from static, 3D models.

From concept to operations, contractors, construction firms, and road and bridge owner-operators can leverage digital twins to allow project teams to gain more visibility into the design. Digital twins also allow management and owners to understand the implications of design decisions early in the process and help them achieve improved performance across the asset lifecycle.

During the planning, design, and construction of a new road or bridge or major upgrade, project digital twins can optimize the design in line with operational requirements and reduce the risk of delayed or nonconformant construction through simulation. Project digital twins can also improve logistics and communication within the supply chain, which can help maintain the schedule and budget.

It is during operations that performance digital twins become the most valuable. Owner-operators gain insight when inputs from Internet of Things (IoT)-connected devices, such as drones that deliver continuous surveys to provide real-time tracking of asset changes in real-world conditions, add to the digital representation. This transparency helps owner-operators prioritize and improve maintenance or upgrades.

When artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are applied, analytics visibility gained from big data can provide insight and immersive digital operations to enhance the effectiveness of operations and maintenance. The upshot is that access to performance digital twins might enable staff to anticipate and avoid issues before they arise, or to improve their reaction times.

With the application of drones and robots, along with AI-based computer vision, automating inspection tasks using a digital twin, experts can conduct inspections remotely, increase productivity, leverage the value of specialists, and reduce the risks that come with exposing team members to dangerous environments.

Real-Life Applications of Road and Bridge Digital Twins

Bentley sees its users going digital with digital twins, advancing digital workflows and using intelligent components, and using digital context to improve project delivery and/or enable assets to perform better, every day and all around the world. Here are a few examples that illustrate how Bentley users are going digital in their project work.

Italferr uses digital twins to build the Pergenova Viaduct in Genoa, Italy. The Pergenova Consortium Company chose Italferr to design an emergency replacement for the 1,182-meter Morandi Bridge over the Polcevera River in Genoa, Italy. The collapsed bridge closed three rail lines and added 120 kilometers to road travel. Consequently, rebuilding it as quickly as possible was critical for the city’s long-term economic and cultural health — and construction would need to begin while the design was in progress.

To ensure the accuracy of the design while staying on schedule, Italferr used Bentley’s building information modeling (BIM) methodology and created a digital twin of the viaduct to streamline workflows throughout the design phase. To achieve this goal, Italferr incorporated detailed information for construction and operation into the model, as there was little time to significantly alter the model after the design phase. The organization also established an open, connected data environment to promote collaboration among the multidiscipline project team and ensure a single source of truth. Bentley applications also helped Italferr define standards, templates, and basic criteria to create a digital twin and a unified 3D information model that forms the basis for design, construction, and operation.

Leveraging BIM and creating a digital workflow with Bentley applications allowed Italferr to visualize the design with a much higher degree of quality and speed than traditional 2D designs. Using Bentley’s BIM solutions and digital twins, Italferr reduced design costs, improved decision-making, increased accuracy, and improved multidiscipline communication.

BIM advancements and digitial twins optimize the design and construction of a Chinese expressway. Meitan-Shiqian Expressway is a key project in the 13th Five-Year Plan for Transportation Development in China’s Guizhou province. It is the first expressway in China that applies BIM methodologies for construction and management in large quantities and in all disciplines. Located in a very mountainous area, the expressway is 113 kilometres long with numerous bridges, elevated highways, and tunnels.

The project leveraged digital twins to improve the quality of expressway construction and implement the concept of full lifecycle management. Unmanned aerial vehicles were flown to survey the existing site, and Bentley’s reality modeling software was used to create a 3D reality model. Having this reality context helped the team accelerate and optimize the design, shortening the construction period by 89 days.

The introduction of virtual design and construction technologies has transformed the traditional construction lifecycle on this project. The project team identified issues in the design stage that would not have been found and solved until the construction stage using previous methods. Identifying problems at the design stage cut the design effort and time in half, improved construction quality, and reduced construction costs. The BIM models collected during the project were used to establish a digital twin, which provides the foundation for maintenance and for modeling and predicting future asset performance.

Foth uses digital twins to deliver roadway revitalization project in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Foth Infrastructure and Environment was retained to develop a comprehensive transportation plan from preliminary engineering through final design and construction for a busy road corridor in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The city’s goals were to improve traffic flow and safety, provide bicycle and pedestrian access and mobility, and facilitate commercial access, while minimizing capital investment and operational costs. To address the city’s priorities, Foth introduced innovative design elements rarely seen in the state, including roundabouts, a lane reduction, and a complete streets approach to accommodate multimodal travellers.

Having a single 3D model improved the accuracy and efficiency of the design process, seamlessly integrating designers and consultants from a global network. The 3D model also helped improve the construction phase. Foth established the 3D model as a digital twin, with data flowing to and from the model as field personnel identified and resolved potential issues on site. Beyond construction, the engineering information contained in the digital twin will provide significant value to future operations and asset management, as these digital assets can intelligently convey critical information for performance improvements to the city.

Saving time in the design phase dramatically reduced the overall project schedule, allowing Foth to meet construction and city schedules while delivering a high-quality project. Working in an open, connected data environment with Bentley’s applications improved project deliverables across all phases, maximizing collaboration and productivity between mobile and dispersed teams, as well as optimizing communication with the city, utility companies, and community stakeholders. Editor's note: for more on this project, see "While Revitalizing a Roadway, Foth Team Honed Collaboration Processes That Ease Remote Work."

BIM, reality modeling, and GIS data yield digital twins for highway in Malaysia. Malaysia’s Pan Borneo Highway is a 1,060-kilometer, four-lane dual carriageway that spans undulating terrain through existing communities and protected reserves in the state of Sarawak. Lebuhraya Borneo Utara (LBU), the project delivery partner, and Reveron Consulting, a Bentley channel partner, were selected by the government of Malaysia to implement Bentley solutions for design, construction, and operations of the Pan Borneo Highway.

LBU digitalized planning, design, and construction of the Pan Borneo Highway, accommodating government standards to deliver best value. Having leveraged Bentley applications throughout construction, including for construction monitoring, the next phase focused on operations, maintenance, and asset management to ensure the highway meets its current and future functional requirements.

Because it capitalized on reality modeling, as well as digital processes and workflows, a digital twin approach was used as the basis for operational decisions. Bentley’s integrated applications, along with its connected data environment, provide a complete technology solution that enables the creation of a digital twin. Digital twins were used to integrate a road information system, a bridge management system, and a maintenance management system that are specifically developed and designed to include development of nonconformance reports. The digital twins use Bentley technology to combine BIM, reality modeling, and GIS data to provide immersive visibility and analytics for timely decision-making and improved infrastructure asset performance.


Digital twins enable users to visualize infrastructure assets across the entire asset lifecycle, track change, and perform analysis to optimize asset performance. Bentley’s infrastructure digital twins combine engineering data, reality data, and IoT data for a holistic view of infrastructure, both above and below the ground. Immersive visualization, visibility, and analytics help users achieve a deeper understanding of infrastructure assets, so they can improve decision-making for better outcomes.


About the Author: Meg Davis

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