It’s said by many Northern states that there are only two seasons: Winter and road construction. But in an increasing number of states, transportation departments are using paperless processes known as “e-construction” to streamline the process and make construction season shorter.

E-construction is a system set up by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the U.S. Department of Transportation. The federal agency has been working with transportation departments in states ranging from Texas to Minnesota to help them establish paperless processes. These techniques include electronically capturing construction data, electronic submission of construction documentation, mobile devices, automation of document review and approval, and electronic signatures. These technologies produce secure document and workflow management that is accessible to all stakeholders on any device, reducing or eliminating the myriad forms typically required for highway construction.

“The administration of highway projects requires a significant amount of documentation,” writes the FHWA on its website. “This has traditionally been accomplished through extensive, paper-based documentation systems involving conventional postal delivery, project journals, note taking, stamped plan sets, design and construction submittals, and physical signatures on multiple copies of many documents. A paper-based system requires significant time and money to create, process and store documentation. In an era of instant communication, on-the-fly information access, and a tech-savvy workforce, this state of affairs is fast becoming obsolete.”

One of the main benefits of moving to a paperless e-construction system is improved communication. “The e-Construction process allows faster approvals, increased accuracy and enhanced document tracking, all while increasing transparency,” the agency writes. “The improvement to communication and the transparency of the process has virtually eliminated all questions, claims and disputes as to when (or if) a document was submitted. Additionally, all stakeholders can see the name of the document approver along with the exact timing of each step recorded.”

But the biggest advantage is saving time and money. In Michigan, for example, the Department of Transportation estimates that it saves about $12 million in added efficiencies and 6,000,000 pieces of paper annually by using electronic document storage for its $1 billion construction program, according to the FHWA. At the same time, it has reduced its average contract modification processing time from 30 days to three days.

In many cases, what saves the time is the fact that highway construction personnel are literally “on the road” most of the time. Electronic processes mean the employees can still work when they’re away from the office, and don’t have to copy material over.

“By its nature, much of the work that happens with constructing highways and roads is out in the field and not in the office,” writes Ricky Ribeiro in StateTech. “In the era before e-construction, this work relied heavily on paper, which was consolidated and processed at the office. But with field workers empowered to access documents onsite and approve different aspects of the project in real time, things move at a much more rapid pace.”

In Houston, for example, highway inspectors are saving up to 38 hours per month, each, by using tablet computers and software that lets them record their observations in real time rather than writing them down and then having to enter them into another system back at the office, writes Elissa Rivas for ABC 13. They hope to expand the program throughout the state.

A recent survey of transportation departments across the U.S found that departments that have adopted e-construction report better results. “Of the 185 respondents, 54 percent either have piloted or adopted e-Construction tools for use in building U.S. roads, streets, highways and bridges,” writes Mark Fidelman in Forbes. “Of those in the adoption category, 60 percent of the DOT respondents reported on-time deliveries for most 2015 projects, according to the original contract schedule. This compares to 36 percent of DOT peers who didn’t use e-Construction in 2015. Moreover, 68 percent of DOTs that have adopted e-Construction tools reported that at least 76 percent of construction projects were delivered on budget, according to the original contract.”

With luck, e-construction might even help Northern states get some of their summer back.

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