Now’s the Time for an Infrastructure Summit

DBIA Executive Director/CEO, Lisa Washington, says now’s the time for an Infrastructure Summit. Her thoughts were published in The Hill.

Infrastructure investment is one of the few issues in this politically divisive era which garners wide support across parties, regions, and states yet – we can’t pave streets with promises.   Americans in cities and rural areas, no matter their political persuasion, understand that our nation’s bridges and roads, airports and public transit, water and sewer pipes – which serve as a bedrock of our economy — are in desperate need of improvement.  Study after study has shown that much of our nation’s infrastructure is either structurally deficient, functionally obsolete or both. Despite rare bipartisan agreement and recognition of the problem, there are no easy answers for how to solve a problem that’s been decades in the making.  The most fundamental question is “how do we pay for it?”

President Trump has promised $1 trillion in new infrastructure investment and Senate Democrats have now released their plan; however, even that amount won’t get the job fully done.  While the figures vary, the most recent annual report card by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. infrastructure a D+, estimating that the U.S. needs to invest $3.6 trillion by 2020 to upgrade infrastructure to acceptable levels.  Many in Congress balk at funding a $1 trillion investment, let alone nearly four times that.  With current funding levels unable to fully address the funding gap, part of the solution is for industry leaders to help our nation reevaluate how we are spending the limited funds which are available.  Now is the perfect time to bring together representatives from the public and private sectors, builders, designers, lawmakers and infrastructure experts to tackle this issue head-on in a national infrastructure summit.

We applaud Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) and Rev. Jesse Jackson for starting the conversation.  They understand that investing in America by rebuilding our infrastructure, improving public services to our citizenry and providing jobs for American workers shouldn’t be a partisan issue.  Bringing together key stakeholders to tap into the innovation and collaboration needed to turn campaign promises into reality is a vital first step.  As design-builders, the very heart of our work depends on exactly that type of innovation and collaboration.

Design-build isn’t new and it’s not radical; however, it does require public owners (like cities, states and the federal government) to provide flexibility in the procurement process allowing designers and builders to collaborate earlier in the process, creating projects which allocate risks more efficiently and improving delivery time and budget.   In fact, design-builders from coast to coast haven’t waited on Washington to act; they’ve already been answering the call from cities and states looking for ways to maximize their limited project dollars.  Standard & Poor’s Global reports, “In 2016, 24 states approved 267 ballot measures, including tax increases for $207 billion in transportation infrastructure spending over the next 40 years.”  The vast majority of states now utilize design-build in all or some of their agencies.  Public owners have found that allowing innovation and collaboration to flourish on design-build projects nationwide, has stretched limited public funds by consistently delivering time and cost benefits on the vital infrastructure projects citizens support.  Research shows design-build has proven to be faster and more cost-effective, resulting in fewer changes, fewer claims and less litigation.  It’s no wonder design-build is one of the fastest growing sectors in the building industry.

The design-build industry, representing a broad array of professionals including; architects, builders, engineers, legal and finance experts, and owners, knows what it takes to deliver on the promise of building a better America.  We’ve been doing it for decades.  Now, we urge Congress to support the innovation and collaboration needed to find a way to increase America’s infrastructure investment.  Supporting an Infrastructure Summit is a good start.