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.