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Digital Expertise: Case study

Taipa Bridge, New Zealand – A gateway to the future

Building a bridge to the beauty of New Zealand

The wonders of New Zealand’s northern coastal areas have long been known but not so openly accessible. That changed in December 2019 when the new Taipā Bridge opened, delivering better connections to the natural wonders of the Northland area.

The old Taipā bridge had been unable to cope with handling the traffic volumes and safety requirements of locals and tourists as they flocked to the area’s popular fishing and swimming spots.

Through the collaboration of Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Aurecon, Fulton Hogan and WSP, the new bridge provides residents with more reliable daily travel options and is a gateway for tourists travelling to the area’s holiday destinations. It is one of many bridges being replaced as part of the New Zealand government’s pledge to improve Northland’s aging transport infrastructure.

Entrusted with the design, Aurecon was presented with many multidimensional challenges to take Taipā Bridge from a 70-year-old single lane structure to a brand new two-lane connection enabler. Aurecon’s role on the project included civil, structural and environmental engineering design.

Aurecon was presented with many multidimensional challenges to take Taipā Bridge from a 70-year old single lane structure to a brand new two-lane connection enabler.

Aurecon was presented with many multidimensional challenges to take Taipā Bridge from a 70-year old single lane structure to a brand new two-lane connection enabler.

As part of the design role, Aurecon used digital engineering tools for virtual reality visualisation, 3D modelling and 3D laser scanning to tackle the engineering challenges. These digital tools were gateways to safety in design, gathering project support and ensuring greater construction certainty.

Going digital for the new Taipa Bridge

Digital engineering in general is responsible for bringing new opportunities to infrastructure projects that haven’t been experienced before. It harnesses imagination and easily manages multidimensional challenges.

This was powerfully evident on Taipā Bridge as digital engineering created, captured and integrated detailed data to solve the engineering complexities presented on the project.

Digital engineering in general is responsible for bringing new opportunities to infrastructure projects that haven’t been experienced before.

This is why digital engineering is so fantastic, it’s about solving engineering challenges in the most efficient way.

– Oliver De Lautour, Aurecon Lead Bridge Engineer

Digital engineering in general is responsible for bringing new opportunities to infrastructure projects that haven’t been experienced before.

Digital scanning for detailed data

Accuracy was of paramount importance for Aurecon’s engineering design as the new Taipā Bridge was constructed directly alongside the existing bridge – within 200 mm to be exact. For this reason, the engineering designs were more intricate and complex than a traditional new bridge build.

Designing and constructing with a 200 mm space contingency was tough, but Aurecon knew that the solution was to use innovative 3D laser scanning technology.

Accuracy beyond the human eye

With 3D laser scanning technology, Aurecon took 3D pictures of the existing bridge down to the very last nut and bolt. The laser scanning data provided designers with millimetre-accuracy for the location of pavements, the deck, handrails and all the other infrastructure elements. It enabled Aurecon to produce more detailed engineering designs for the new bridge that were significantly more accurate than conventional 2D drawings could ever be.

This gave the engineers and contractors far greater construction certainty with regards to the location of all the parts of the existing bridge, and how the new bridge would align next to the old one.

The significant accuracy of the 3D data gained on this project led the design team to shift the new bridge longitudinally by 100 mm from the original design. While this sounds a small distance, it was an important factor in aligning the new bridge with the actual abutment positions of the existing structure.

Using digital engineering to work smarter was the key to Aurecon’s engineering design for Taipā Bridge

With 3D laser scanning technology, Aurecon took 3D pictures of the existing bridge down to the very last nut and bolt. The laser scanning data provided designers with millimetre-accuracy for the location of pavements, the deck, handrails and all the other infrastructure elements.

With 3D laser scanning technology, Aurecon took 3D pictures of the existing bridge down to the very last nut and bolt. The laser scanning data provided designers with millimetre-accuracy for the location of pavements, the deck, handrails and all the other infrastructure elements.

Digital engineering tools solving challenges

The 3D laser scanning data was converted into a 3D model of the bridge’s design. This allowed engineers to quickly and easily convey preliminary design intent in a real-world, contextual environment.

The model captured every element of the bridge design, including structures, roadside infrastructure and foundation supports, and their respective specifications and standards. Enhanced client interaction and understanding of the design was achieved with the visual nature of the 3D model.

“After the 3D model was created we stopped using drawings in client meetings. With the model we could get down to the detail on each element of the bridge’s design with a click of the button, helping to make swift decisions and gain immediate approval,” said Oliver De Lautour, Aurecon Lead Bridge Engineer.

Going the extra mile

Roadside infrastructure such as light poles, sign foundations, safety barriers and handrails aren’t normally available to model in standard 3D modelling programs. However, these elements were important to include for Taipā Bridge so Aurecon went the extra mile for the project and drew close to 100 elements in a structural engineering program and then imported the graphics into the 3D model.

This gave construction certainty to the civil contractor that roadside infrastructure wouldn’t clash with the bridge’s structural elements, and they also wouldn’t block a driver’s vision of the road after installation.

“This was pushing the boundaries of 3D modelling but we designed this solution because we knew it was important to the project,” said De Lautour.

Taking a digital step into the future

Thanks to the invention of virtual reality displays, people can now teleport into the future. Aurecon could see how virtual reality might help bring this project to life for the community.

A virtual reality display was set up at the community open day with virtual reality goggles and a visualisation of the future Taipā Bridge. As people lowered the goggles over their eyes, a futuristic display appeared before them.

People were immersed into the design of Taipā Bridge – watching cars and trucks travel the length of the bridge, seeing where the shared footpath would be located, and noticing how structures were designed for safety.

Positive community engagement and support for the project was generated at the community open day and was deemed a success by the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, attributed in part to the virtual reality experience.

Beyond the open day, the virtual reality experience provided valuable insight for the Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and the project’s Contractor, Fulton Hogan. All parties were able to evaluate the effectiveness of the design and gain greater clarity around the construction of the bridge.

Girl using virtual reality to experience new Taipa Bridge design, New Zealand

From an Iwi and community perspective, it was incredible to see the change in dynamics as people began to interact with the virtual reality platform. For the first time, people began to see that we were going to build what we promised, and this played a big part in building trust. The speed at which the project moved was testament to the trust built up between parties.

– Jim Sephton, Northland Programme Delivery Lead, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency

The new bridge for Northland

The location of Taipā Bridge on Northland’s main tourist connection, the Twin Coast Discovery Route, means it plays a critical role in Northland’s economy. The existing bridge had limited provision for pedestrians and did not provide for cyclists, yet they were both important components of the tourist economy.

The improved bridge provides new facilities for people who enjoy walking and cycling. It also highlights Taipā’s appeal as a popular swimming and fishing destination, encouraging more visitors and contributing to the local economy.

The new Taipā Bridge will provide motorists with safer and more reliable travel options.

The new Taipā Bridge will provide motorists with safer and more reliable travel options.

The project team has delivered value to the community, visitor and end-users by designing a structure that meets their needs following engagement with the local Iwi and community representatives.

The new Taipā Bridge will provide motorists with safer and more reliable travel options. This is great news for locals and tourists.

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