COVID-19 AND TRANSPORTATION CONSTRUCTION PART 6: Prioritizing Transportation Projects Receiving Stimulus Funding

THIS EIGHT-PART SERIES DISCUSSES THE IMPACTS OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC ON TRANSPORTATION CONSTRUCTION AND THE IMPORTANCE OF INVESTING IN INFRASTRUCTURE TO HELP REBUILD THE ECONOMY. THESE WEEKLY Q&A SESSIONS WITH LEADING EXPERTS IN THE TRANSPORTATION INDUSTRY INCLUDE GOVERNMENT AGENCIES, ENGINEERING & DESIGN FIRMS, CONTRACTORS, MATERIAL SUPPLIERS, AND INDUSTRY ASSOCIATIONS.

Paul Schmitz / July 16, 2020 / 3 minute read
COVID-19 AND TRANSPORTATION CONSTRUCTION PART 6: Prioritizing Transportation Projects Receiving Stimulus Funding

Working on the assumption that a stimulus bill will be passed, states then must decide how to prioritize the vast number of infrastructure projects on their dockets. Should projects that bring the most long-term value come before one that offers immediate economic relief? An important balancing act must take place to get the economy humming while ensuring that the funds are invested wisely. This week we ask our panel of experts their thoughts on how to best prioritize projects and the importance of performance requirements and life cycle costs for projects receiving stimulus funding.

 

Would you agree with a performance requirement for using infrastructure funding to reduce maintenance costs and better utilize funds?

We had 12 panelists respond to this question with the answers broken down as follows:

  • Agree – 75%

  • Disagree – 25%

 

How important is lifecycle cost analysis when determining how funding should be used? (Rate from 1-low to 10-high).

  • We had responses with importance ratings from 1 to 8, with an average value of 5.25

Expand on your response if possible.

  • Jeff Lackey (Vice President – TranSystems, Inc.)
    I think life cycle cost definitely needs to be part of the discussion. In addition, projects that provide expansion opportunity, spur development, and help ease pressure off annual state budgets are also prime candidates in my opinion.

  • Michael Mangione (Senior Vice President – WSP USA)
    A new bill should limit onerous state reporting requirements and analysis in order to use the funds. If projects are identified in the state’s STIP, the federal government should allow it. A new bill should not create significant paperwork, staffing and requirements for the states when the labor would be better used in the delivery of projects at all levels and areas.

The most efficient method of stimulus funding would be to add it to the formula funds, increasing the obligation authority accordingly. All other rules and reports then would remain the same.

  • Wendy McBay (Vice President Marketing – Tensar) The point of utilizing a performance requirement with federal funding is so that we can be the best stewards of those funds and of our country's future. Instead of focusing on short-term fixes that will not stand the test of time, solutions with a long-term performance requirement will ensure that the states and counties invest in the best solutions for the future. This ties in with the need for Lifecycle Analysis as well. Looking at only the initial construction cost of a project can limit the exploration of longer-term solutions. In some cases, however, such as the case with Tensar's solutions, you can achieve higher performance and longer life, without paying a higher price up front.

 

From an agency perspective, how will you prioritize projects to receive funding from a possible stimulus package?

  • Randell Iwasaki (Executive Director – Contra Costa Transportation Authority)
    In addition to being the county transportation planning agency, we are also the congestion management agency for Contra Costa – funding many projects aimed at reducing traffic in our county. We have reviewed our quarterly status reports that are updated on an on-going basis. We have pulled all projects with a NEPA document. We took a look at their “shovel readiness” and pulled all projects that are 65% designed started to figure out what it will take to get them ready to go to construction. We have also reviewed our rules and regulations to determine if we can modify the procurement process to not have to prepare a set of plans, etc. and advertise as a service contract. Some of the project examples are as follows: Interstate 680 serves as major commute artery for the entire county feeding both Silicon Valley and Oakland/San Francisco employment areas. There are two projects that are a priority on this corridor: an I-680 Northbound HOV/Express lane project that is currently in the environmental phase (if stimulus dollars could be used for design, this would be a huge benefit); and completing the I-680/Highway 4 Interchange project, which is currently handling a significantly higher amount of traffic than it was ever designed to accommodate. We also have a project ready to go on the I-80 corridor to upgrade the I-80/San Pablo Dam Road interchange by replacing the overpass that spans I-80. This is a vital freight corridor for the state, and the low height of the overpass has resulted in it actually being hit by freight trucks. This project is at 65% designed and has a capital funding deficit of approximately $80 million. We also have a pedestrian/bicycle overcrossing 100% designed and ready to go to construction adjacent to the largest employment center in the county–which would help reduce traffic weight times and conflicts where a bicycle and pedestrian trail crosses a major intersection. Since this project currently only has a CEQA document, it more than likely won’t be eligible for federal dollars unless the state acts on the single document legislation mentioned above.

Projects would be prioritized based on the available “shelf” projects and our existing needs across the state and the impact on public safety and mobility.

My perspective as the Materials and Pavements Director, is we would want to follow our current prioritization processes.

From the responses this week, the majority (75%) of panelists would agree that a performance requirement should be put in place when infrastructure funding is used to reduce maintenance costs and better utilize funds. As a Market Manager for Public Roads, I have seen first-hand how using proven, readily available technology can create higher performing roads for the available budget and speed up the overall construction process. Leaning on a trusted partner in this way can bring the balance that is greatly needed in this situation.

Next week we will ask our group of panelists for feedback on ways to improve infrastructure stimulus packages from previous examples.

About the Author

Schmitz is Market Manager for Roads with Tensar.

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