Layers of project and customer data flow via Google Earth to give field crews ground specs.

As the federal government launches a top-down initiative to fast-track power transmission projects nationwide, Kansas City, Mo.-based Burns & McDonnell is applying a bottoms-up approach to streamline its line projects with layered GIS data.

The company is using its OneTouch PM system to mobilize modules—including real estate, customer relations and construction status data—on Google Earth maps. It lets everyone on the project navigate to real-time project status information.

The company is using the system on 26 projects with a total value of about $10 billion. One is Pennsylvania Power & Light's Susquehanna (N.J.)-Roseland (Pa.) Transmission Project, one of seven transmission lines the Obama administration picked in October for fast-tracking. Federal permitting will be expedited among multiple agencies. While construction has not yet started, OneTouch is making planning and risk mitigation more efficient, says Alex Olmos, a company information management specialist.

OneTouch incorporates project databases, including Oracle's Primavera, and PLS-CADD design files from Power Line Systems Inc. The Susquehanna-Roseland project will use seven "modules" of the OneTouch system to give owners, contractors and subcontractors field access by laptops or PC tablets to information such as line routes and right-of-way boundaries, daily work completion reports and pledges made to landowners.

Jerry Fortier, project manager for the $1-billion New England East-West Solution transmission reliability project for Northeast Utilities, Berlin, Conn., touts the system's advantages for working more efficiently as well as improving customer relations.

Bob Wolfe, a company regional project controls manager, says the system eliminates problems caused by uncoordinated databases and overlapping information. Before, he says, promises made to individual landowners and customers often were lost before construction began.

"All of a sudden, we stopped making mistakes, and our supervisors started realizing why we needed all that data," Wolfe says. He adds that when prospective utility owners see the program, they often have an "I-want-that-tool moment."