Lessons from our annual awards

Dec. 2, 2021

This column published as "In Good Hands" in November/December 2021 issue

And now the fun begins.

When President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in November, it marked the end of the beginning. Not to sound too corny, but there is a long road ahead. The next few months are going to be busy as politicians and leaders in the roads and bridges construction industry begin to implement the IIJA.

That means U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has a lot of decisions to make. It also means it’s time for bidding on projects, discussing designs, and mobilizing the workforce. This section of the journey to improved infrastructure is going to be a long stretch of road (I’m sorry, I can’t help it—being corny is who I am). But the IIJA’s size is reason for excitement.

Passed with bipartisan support in Congress, the $1.2 trillion infrastructure package will inject $110 billion for roads, bridges, and major infrastructure projects, as well as $40 billion for bridge repair, replacement, and rehabilitation. It’s likely the largest dedicated bridge investment the country has seen in over half a century, and overall it will deliver $550 billion of new federal investments in America’s infrastructure over five years.

The Roads & Bridges awards issue is a perfect example of how this enormous amount of money is in good hands. The industry is being given a lot of responsibility, and in return, will be under a lot of pressure. Much of that pressure will be unfair, since many Americans are likely unaware of the planning, teamwork, and dedication that goes into building the infrastructure they take for granted.

These are the folks who will complain about detours and traffic because of construction, even though the project is crucial to improving the lives of motorists and residents.

But, reading over the submissions we received for the top roads and bridges of the year, I felt optimism because of two common themes among the entries: efficiency and good communication.

In numerous submissions, project managers conveyed pride in how well everyone involved—from the stakeholders to the contractors and engineers—communicated their wants and needs.

In several instances, the general public had a voice in how projects unfolded because of urban density and traffic flow. In the years ahead, this type of outreach will cut down on the aforementioned people who complain about construction.

For this year’s top roads and bridges, proper communication meant no confusion, and it helped teams get projects done faster, smoother. However, in terms of efficiency, most submitters credited the lack of traffic due to the pandemic.

With millions of Americans working from home, there were less commuters on roads, and workers on construction sites were able to accomplish a lot.

It was hard not to read submissions about efficiency and good communication without thinking of the congestion in Congress.

Regardless of where one stands ideologically, the poor state of America’s infrastructure can’t be denied. And not only did this bill take forever to pass, it almost didn’t reach President Biden’s desk.

That would have been a tragedy because, over the next five years, the roads and bridges construction industry is going to improve this country through planning, hard work, and cooperation. Everyone should step back and observe. This industry has a lot to teach us.

About The Author: Jenkins is managing editor of Roads & Bridges.

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