Over the last year we have been doing many onsite meetings showing how our Builterra cloud and mobile platform manages the data workflow from design take-offs to progress payment reporting. Part of the process involves the creation of a standardized Bid Item Catalog to streamline bid table preparation and cost estimating. We normally discuss the value of having enhanced bid item properties to enable very accurate cost estimating. Builterra allows the user to enhance the standardized bid item properties (like a GIS system) to allow designers to connect directly with the design model object or CAD Entity and streamline quantity extraction direct to the bid item list.

This all sounds wonderful in the perfect world of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) asset management. Builterra was designed from the ground up to handle this requirement, hence bridging the gap between BIM and GIS during contract administration and project delivery.

As we grow and meet new engineers and owners, we get to understand how they are currently building their bids and tenders, specifically for infrastructure (Road, Sewer, Water) projects from Halifax to Vancouver. Recently, we have been meeting new customers in the USA, and it turns out that they do the exact same process as the civil engineers and public/private owners do here in Canada! From land development to municipal infrastructure to utility construction, unit-based bid lists and cost estimating from submitted construction companies is a process no different south of the border.


the Technology Gap between design and as-built GIS data submission. This is what we call the “contract administration” process at civil engineering firms throughout the US and Canada.

“BIM-Like” Object Data Enhancement for AutoCAD 2D-3D Entities

As discussed, part of the process of implementation requires us here at Builterra to build standard bid item catalogs for both private and public clients. This implementation process requires us to have the client send us historic master bid lists or old projects that we can glean for past item information. Land development engineers really understand the concept of BIM and GIS and are open to tweaking their historic item lists to ease the data extraction process using our Builterra Design Connect extension for AutoCAD Civil 3D. The “Property Set” styles feature now available in AutoCAD Civil 3D 2017/2018 makes adding enhanced properties to any AutoCAD entity simple and easy for any user. It seems that Autodesk finally understood that the powerful AutoCAD Map 3D class definition workflow was just too much for the average firm to manage or implement.

From first glance, it seems like we are all set and can finally bring enhanced intelligence to the CAD objects designers create all day long. No longer held hostage by layering alone, we can associate true custom properties to any 2D or 3D object. Even the Autodesk Navisworks Manage product can list attached object properties for 3D visual inspection and information display.


Typical DOT style bid list showing item code, description, unit type and average unit pricing. Cost Estimates are based on the unique item code, and possibly a project location.


For public owners, like State, County, City and Towns, they already have standard bid item catalogs and 20 years of legacy data to support cost estimating and bid preparation. This is a workflow where Excel is the tool of choice and standard lists are reviewed and released to the engineers who need them for bid preparation. The standardized bid item consists of just three (3) properties: Unique Item Code, Description and Unit Type.

The lists are large and, in most cases, have tens of entries for what we in the BIM world could consider the same object. If you take a typical precast sewer pipe, we can envision over 10 diameters, at least 3 material types, 4 class types as a minimum that would require over 120 unique items to allow for accurate bidding and cost estimating. This does not even cover, depth of pipe range, bedding type, or if it’s in rock or not. You see where we are going with this conversation?

Bottom line here is that upon review of every published State DOT Bid List, the current bid list(s) posted online do not support the BIM philosophy beyond design for the sole purpose of bid preparation and accurate cost estimating.

Introducing Bid Item Catalog “Levels”

In keeping with the BIM concepts and guidelines that outline “Level” requirements for real value in BIM construction management and integrated project delivery, we need a similar terminology for our industry and technology niche in the infrastructure project delivery world.

Here at Builterra, we create a lot of standard catalogs and bid templates for every kind of client. We see a lot of variation in standards. From very standardized text-based lists like a State DOT, to weird and wonderful excel files from contractors, to “PDF Bid Tabs from the last 4 jobs we did”, we get to help organize this so our clients can start day 1 with bid preparation.

This is our internal method of classifying a list of bid items, so we can deliver consistently for every client.


Level 1 Catalog

As discussed, most of our public-sector clients fall into this category. Years of bid data with unique item codes, descriptions and unit type. This is also where all the Builterra competition falls into. Cost estimating is derived from item code search or key description matching. Builterra had to step back and deliver a “Level 1” bid preparation system to accommodate this large market sector. With real-time search, drag n drop into any user defined pay item section table, this is an easy way to get into standardized bid preparation.


This is a Level 1 Bid list from CalTrans. This is a good example where itemcode is unique, the description varies based on changing diameter, material and class. Depending on how many item properties there are, an individual item can have over 100+ minor variations all with a unique item code.

Level 2 Catalog

This is a slightly enhanced bid item catalog allows for additional item properties for the purposes of design quantity takeoffs and enhanced cost estimating. This catalog design would in fact support a workflow from CAD or model-based design to first populate the enhanced item properties, then search for the unique item code and description. Every DOT catalog could be augmented with Level 2 bid item properties to support data extraction from drawings. The item code and description are extracted from the standard catalog based on object property search. Therefore, if item code is found based on design object property search, then cost estimating from historic data can be achieved just like the Level 1 system.


This is the CalTrans Bid List imported into Builterra Standard Catalog. Note that by adding the actual Diameter, Material and Class properties to the Section 65: Concrete Pipe catalog section table, we can now use this catalog for Level 3 costs estimating and Level 4 quantity takeoff using the Builterra Design Connect extension for AutoCAD Civil3D.

Level 3 Catalog

This is a full-blown parameter-based Catalog framework with unique bid item properties which also has Item Code and Description but does not depend on them for building a complex description. The description of the item can be created solely based on the user defined item property selection. As in our example above, that same precast pipe with over 120 combinations can come down to a single line item in the catalog. The changing design parameters of the item result in the item description being written using user defined parameter values and displayed in the project bid list looking like a human wrote it. In Builterra system this is a property in the Pay Item Table definition called the “Long Description”. The Long Description looks a lot like AutoCAD Civil3D style editor, where the item description is exclusively built from embedded property attributes within a common string.


This is a specific Pay Item Table Definition that would allow the bid description to be written directly from design object properties combined with any user defined data entry. This enables the engineer to have maximum flexibility for bid item cost estimating and search. This framework supports BIM data models or GIS Data export equally without any changes to the Builterra platform.


Eventually, this is where we need to be to leverage BIM for Infrastructure when it comes to bid preparation and cost estimating. At this level, both BIM and GIS workflows can be supported given that the bid items are “parameterized”, bid section tables are created and assigned to CAD objects and layers and automated quantity takeoff is a supported workflow in the design group.

In fact, based on either object design properties, attached property set data, block attributes, or any other available object property, we can literally build the “description” of the bid item from design drawings and models. Builterra was design for this Level of Catalog over 4 years ago in order to handle the industry movement to BIM and eventual submission of constructed items to GIS asset management. It’s not by coincidence that Builterra can do this. The problem with introducing a Level 4 concept into a Level 1 client is that they might not even be aware of BIM or the benefits of model-based design.


AutoCAD Civil 3D is connected to the Builterra Project Bid using Builterra Design Connect, Items are automatically selected using pre-configured object-layer filters, object properties are used to write the item description automatically. Cost Estimating is performed on historic data with same item properties like diameter, material and class.


Thanks for sticking with me during this technical write up. It’s pretty dry stuff when we discuss BIM for Infrastructure without any rendered images and beautiful 3D animations. Builterra was built to bridge this gap between design and as-built GIS. Providing a great way to prepare bids and tenders, inspect awarded bid items and produce progress reports and certificates was a solution that contract administration staff love. Connecting those same bid items with design objects means that data created in model-based design software has a new destination greater than a roll of drawings or a 3D clash detection model.

We have truly integrated aspects of the project and contract management currently performed with disconnected Excel files and made into a single cloud-based database that handles any kind of project type or size. The bid preparation piece of the puzzle needs to be discussed and resolved if we are ever to consider BIM for civil infrastructure processes beyond design. I hope that this short paper has introduced you to the challenge and made you aware of the possible solutions using the Builterra Platform.

Please email me directly at if you would like to discuss how Builterra can help your organization standardize its contract administration processes.


Jeff Lyons

With over 20 years of experience in the municipal and land development sector, Jeff Lyons is dedicated to creating innovative civil engineering software solutions. As a founding partner and Director of Platform Innovation at Builterra, Jeff is a sought-after instructor and guest speaker who regularly engages with clients and associations to share insights that drive the industry forward. Jeff received his diploma in mining engineering technology from the Haileybury School of Mines (Northern College), and his diploma in geological technology (geophysics) from Sir Sandford Fleming College.