During an annual inspection of the Interstate 40 bridge connecting Arkansas and Tennessee in May 2021, a crack in a support beam was discovered. As a result, the bridge had to be closed, disrupting commerce and transportation along this critical corridor. Vehicles were rerouted and barge traffic along this section of the Mississippi River was halted.

New and emerging technology is playing a vital role in helping avoid infrastructure closures and improving the design and construction process for critical projects.

Following detection of the I-40 flawed beam, the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) embraced the use of advanced technology to identify the scope of the problem and formulate immediate solutions. A critical tool that proved beneficial in assessing the damage and detecting areas for repair came in the form of drones.

ARDOT has expanded its drone capabilities to improve bridge safety around the state and now has one of the most extensive programs in the country. That successful adoption should serve as an example for other states because we know integrating these devices saves both time and money.

According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), it costs $4,600 for a manual infrastructure inspection. But the same evaluation with a drone is only $1,200 a 74% savings.

Hands-on bridge inspections also take a considerable amount of time, but a drone can accomplish the same task in about one hour.

This technology has already demonstrated the ability to trim costs and more effectively deploy resources.

Across the country, we can build on the progress Arkansas is experiencing. Investing in and applying drone capabilities to maintain our infrastructure will minimize interruptions to roadway traffic and ensure goods continue moving across the country.

This is why I championed the Drone Infrastructure Inspection Grant Act. This bipartisan legislation authorizes competitive grants through the U.S. Department of Transportation to support community investments in American-made drones and will help develop the workforce to operate this technology.

The bipartisan initiative was included in the FAA Reauthorization Act that Congress overwhelmingly approved in May.

It will open doors to infrastructure improvements for state and local entities. I look forward to seeing how this investment will enhance the safety of bridges, roads, railways, and other critical structures.

Innovation is driving cost-effective updates to better support the immediate and long-term needs of our infrastructure. The idea of working smarter, not harder, is leading to the implementation of advanced digital construction management systems (ADCMS).

These field-tested digital technologies improve efficiency in the design, manufacturing and operations phases of infrastructure projects. Nationwide, we are experiencing an increased use of ADCMS in our surface and water infrastructure project delivery processes. Like the use of drones for infrastructure inspections, this technology elevates timing, cost savings and safety factors that lead to better outcomes and more resilient products.

Construction and project management technologies are used by governments around the globe. This has fundamentally changed how world-class infrastructure is built and managed. By leveraging advanced technology, project sponsors can balance decision-making during project delivery, enabling real-time data capture directly from job sites while improving collaboration across organizations, work streams and locations. In turn, they gain earlier, more detailed insights about progress to intervene more effectively and maintain productivity on time and within the budget.

Incorporating proven technologies into the scope of future infrastructure investments across the United States offers us a rare opportunity to modernize this complex ecosystem and ensure we can close the competitive infrastructure gap with foreign competitors.

We’re always looking for new approaches that advance safety and efficiency on the corridors that connect our communities and facilitate commerce. Implementing technology that has already proven successful is key to helping achieve this goal. By embracing these 21st century tools, we can move better, faster, and smarter.