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Build Infrastructure Better Symposium

Build Infrastructure Better Symposium

Key leaders from the U.S Department of Transpiration, State Departments of Transportation and the University of Maryland participated in the Build America Center’s first official event, the Build Infrastructure Better Symposium, on April 11, 2022 at the University of Maryland College Park Campus.

The two expert panels focused on state implementation of the infrastructure law and on financing and delivery methods.

View Recording of Panel Session One
View Recording of Panel Session Two

Expert Panel #1 – Build Better Infrastructure under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL)

Moderator: Morteza Farajian, Executive Director, Build America Bureau


Summary of Expert Panel #1

(1) The panelists discussed their views on the BIL and what it means for their states.

  • “transformative” with a small “t”: The BIL provides money in formula funds as a down payment; but it is still not much compared to what they need in terms of annual budget. Much of the authorized formula funds are already committed in the 5-year transportation plans and are not “new money.” For example, Maryland’s “new money” is not $6.5 billion as often referenced; rather, it is about $1 billion for highways, about $300 million for transit, and about $158 million for airports. Yet, there are plenty of opportunities for discretionary funds.
  • Working with local governments is key: Local governments often do not get much federal funding that is distributed to the states. This is partially due to the fact that federal funds have more strings attached than state funds. Localities struggle to manage these additional requirements. Thus, states and the BAC need to provide technical assistance to help develop local capabilities for contracting with the federal government (e.g., Buy America and DBE requirements). Over 60,000 localities in the US may need this help. Smaller localities in particular do not have the resources required to take advantage of the discretionary funding opportunities in the BIL. Another part of capacity building with local governments also involves selecting projects that really need the funding.
  • Balancing multiple agendas and assessing investments: Multiple agencies (e.g., MPOs, RPOs, DOT districts) work together to develop transportation plans. The planning process typically requires the state to juggle funds among various agencies and consider multiple agendas (e.g., shovel-ready vs. shovel worthy; transportation independence; a strong will for transit; social, equity, and climate goals). From the state’s perspective, it is important to align and leverage other stakeholders’ priorities. For example, Washington State has programs that in general align with federal initiatives. Its Cap and Invest program sets a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions and auctions and allocates emission allowances to fuel suppliers, industrial sources, electricity generators and other large sources of emissions. In 2021, they passed the Healthy Environments for All (HEAL) Act, which requires environmental justice assessments be performed on transportations projects, grants, or loans $15 million or more. In March 2022, they passed the Move Ahead Washington bill, requiring the state DOT to incorporate complete streets (e.g., sidewalks and bicycle facilities) for projects over half a million dollars. It helps if the private sector’s objective of maximizing returns also aligns with state objectives of enhancing mobility and safety as well as creating jobs. This typically requires assessing investments and aligning stakeholder interests through effective communication. For example, in Louisiana, with a conservative legislature, the state government has been able to advance climate and equity agendas by integrating them with formula funds. Aligning agendas in that political environment means making the agenda about the conservative districts. Communities south of I-10 are losing land due to climate change; rural communities need development. Louisiana’s DOT associates these specific issues with its work. The legislators might not agree with the messenger, but they understand the metrics.
  • The BIL promises opportunities for workforce development: A great deal of training and apprenticeship needs to take place to keep up with the growing needs of the workforce. For example, mechanics who have been working on Maryland’s bus fleet of diesel engines need to be retrained to work on electric buses. The BIL has programs that fund this type of training.

(2) The panelists shared thoughts on lessons learned from using innovative approaches to build infrastructure.

Expert Panel #2 – Innovative Financing and Delivery Methods

Moderator: Mark Sullivan, Director, Center for Innovative Finance Support, FHWA


Summary of Expert Panel #2

1. The panelists explained “innovative financing” and “innovative project delivery.”

Innovative project delivery:

Innovative financing:

2. The panelists discussed how the BIL could help innovative financing and innovative project delivery.

Expert Panel #2 on Innovative Financing and Delivery. Left to right: Sam Beydoun, Tom Curtin, Jacklyn Hartman and Moderator Mark Sullivan. Not seen is Patrick DeCorla-Souza.

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