Is your community prepared for a federal infrastructure stimulus?

Columbus Chamber
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Member Insights By Walid Gemayel, American Structurepoint

When the federal government passes an infrastructure stimulus, will your community be ready? COVID-19 has spurred serious discussions about stimulus spending by the federal government to help jump start the economy. Being prepared and having plans and projects ready for construction is critical to ensure the best opportunity for your community to receive infrastructure funding.

Infrastructure spending, which has been a topic of discussion among Republicans and Democrats over the last several years in Washington, has once again become part of the conversation.  An infrastructure stimulus bill could be introduced in the very near future, according to leaders in Washington. Such legislation could help bolster the economy with recovery, development and job creation, and assist in the rebuilding of aging and failing infrastructure across the nation.

State and local governments throughout the country have been dealing with failing or near-failing infrastructure due to decades of insufficient funding. The American Society of Civil Engineers currently grades America’s roads, bridges, water systems and other critical infrastructure with an abysmal D+. State and local governments typically institute tax increases or bond issues to merely maintain the already existing infrastructure, or go through a competitive selection process administered by state and federal agencies to distribute limited funding for projects. With the projected decrease in income and motor fuel tax revenues, due to rise in unemployment and lower traffic volumes resulting from stay-at-home orders, state and local governments across the nation will face budget and funding challenges.

Communities throughout Ohio are already feeling the pain. Budgets have been cut and public service employees are being laid off or furloughed.

National associations from both the private and public sectors are asking Congress for help. Industry leaders such as the American Council of Engineering Companies, the Associated General Contractors of America, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies and the American Water Works Association, among others, have urged Congressional leaders to provide emergency aid to states for critical infrastructure. Likewise, the seven leading associations representing state and local governments at the federal level have collectively called on Congress to provide relief for basic, yet critical services such as fire, police, parks and recreation and sanitation.

While it’s yet to be determined what comes of the current pleas for assistance, short and long-term investment in critical infrastructure by the federal government is a very real possibility. Benefits of such investment could spur economic recovery and development, job creation and the improvement of America’s infrastructure that people use and rely on every day. Infrastructure that’s in need of repair, replacement, upgrade or new project creation includes but is not limited to:

  • Roads
  • Bridges
  • Water
  • Wastewater
  • Combined Sewer Overflow
  • Broadband

Public agencies charged with distributing future funds will be anxious to find projects that are “shovel ready,” similar to the stimulus passed in 2009. Experts in the architecture and engineering industry are advising clients to identify:

  • Impactful projects that would require stimulus funding.
  • Impactful projects that could be developed quickly with limited right-of-way needs.
  • Impactful projects with limited utility impacts.

We suggest communities review, update or develop the following types of planning documents:

  • Capital Improvement Plans
  • Long-Range Transportation Plans
  • Long-Term Control Plans
  • Comprehensive Plans
  • Asset Management Plans

Several factors remain unknown including the amount of potential stimulus funding and the distribution formula between state and local governments. Regardless of unknown factors, we highly encourage and advise community leaders to take the time to review, update and develop plans as soon as possible. These small up-front investments in planning and design will ensure that their communities are best positioned for potential future infrastructure funding and construction.

Walid Gemayel is a senior vice president, partner and executive in charge of the Ohio operation for American Structurepoint, a full service architecture and engineering firm. Walid has over 31 years of construction and design experience in the public and private sectors of the transportation industry. Walid serves on the Board of Directors for the Ohio Contractors Association and is a board appointee to the State of Ohio Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and Surveyors.