The week of May 10th marked Infrastructure Week in the US, hosted by United for Infrastructure in partnership with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, and American Society of Civil Engineers. This year, Infrastructure Week was particularly noteworthy, since the Covid-19 pandemic had exposed the inadequacy of infrastructure in the United States in areas like the healthcare industry and broadband internet. Infrastructure week also launched as the Biden Administration’s American Jobs Plan, intending to invest in the U.S. infrastructure and create good-paying jobs, was being debated in the House and Senate.
At the event hosted by the Milken Institute (on regional strategies for infrastructure innovation and community resilience), broadband internet and the investment in the workforce were the key issues that panelists drew attention to. Zach Conine, the Treasurer of Nevada, mentioned the different definitions of infrastructure in different parts of the country, especially during the pandemic. The state of Nevada’s newly revamped State Infrastructure Bank included various definitions to maximize the use of federal dollars.
When prioritizing infrastructure, flexibility was also critical depending on the local status quo. In addition, the focus should be put on good-paying, middle-class, and family-supporting jobs; on the policy-making side, DC should consider not just the projects to build but also the workers building them. Quentin Hart, the Mayor of Waterloo, Iowa, stated that when talking about infrastructure, we should include pre-emptive policies to help communities transition to smart cities and the ability to incentive local partnerships as well. The CEO of Invest Buffalo Niagara, Thomas Kucharski, stressed that if we believe now is a seminal time in human history, we should address social and racial equity at the same time. The investment in broadband, in childcare services, and in the mobility of the workforce are all critical parts of the post-pandemic economic recovery.
During the two-day event hosted by the Washington Post on transforming America’s infrastructure, Julia Hamm, the CEO of Smart Electric Power Alliance, reaffirmed the importance of updating the current electrical grid to be compatible with rooftop solar, battery storage, EV, smart thermostats, and among other new technologies. Senator Thomas Carper of Delaware addressed the possibility of reducing short-distance flight travels through improving passenger rail all across the country. He also hoped to gather bipartisan support for the improvement of roads, bridges, and highways. The U.S. Transportation Secretary, Pete Buttigieg, believed that repairing and modernizing America’s infrastructure affects our economic competitiveness, public safety, and overall well-being. He also believed in a higher federal standard on cybersecurity; nevertheless, the private sector should be responsible in ensuring their internet infrastructure.
The event hosted by the American Society of Civil Engineers, in partnership with ARCADIS, discussed the tool of asset management as a way to ensure infrastructure resiliency. Joanna Johnson, chair of Michigan’s Transportation Asset Management Council, emphasized the standardization of conditions assessment for road and bridges and the standardization of data collection and reporting. Matthew Vega, National Director of Infrastructure and Government at US CAD, said that using technology like drones and laser allows them to collect data from inaccessible locations easily. Having up-to-date accurate data is critical for them to make informed decisions and to improve performances. Having access to data in advance also allowed them to explore the different infrastructure programs.
Good data reporting, together with an outstanding score from rating agencies, according to Darryl Street, Senior Advisor at the Office of CFO in D.C, lowered the borrowing costs to fund more infrastructure and improved their efficiencies. In addition, asset management of infrastructure needs to be a part of the communication with the elected officials, as multiple speakers highlighted during the panel. Street mentioned that having buy-ins from elected officials is vital, and Celine Hyer, Senior VP at ARCADIS, furthered that the support from officials for knowledge transfer is critical as well. Successful infrastructure programs should have asset management embedded in the day-to-day operations, as Hyer stated.