Expedited yet responsible environmental reviews, a federal-level public-private partnership program, and targeted state-of-good-repair projects in underserved communities are among the 26 recommendations to Congress outlined in an infrastructure playbook released June 23 by the non-profit group Accelerator for America.
A coalition of U.S. mayors, along with industry players such as WSP USA, HNTB, Meridiam and the ACEC Research Institute, established the New Partnership on Infrastructure this year, announcing in February that it planned to create the America’s New Playbook for Infrastructure.
That playbook has been updated to reflect the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, says John Porcari, WSP president of advisory services in the U.S., and former U.S. Dept. of Transportation deputy secretary. “It has been an iterative process from the beginning,” he says. “We wanted to make sure equity is an important value, and that resilient infrastructure for COVID-19 or the next pandemic is something adjusted for as well.”
The playbook goes beyond a call for significant infrastructure to urge for an overhaul of how infrastructure is financed by the federal government. The playbook states that for stimulus legislation to be most effective, local government needs and broader federal macroeconomic stability goals must better align with each other. Officials say that by empowering local governments—which are most attuned to local needs and priorities—with more autonomy, infrastructure investments can be developed alongside national policy objectives.
“A common misconception is that most infrastructure policy trickles down from Washington, notes Porcari. “Really, it bubbles up from the local level.”
In a virtual press conference announcing the release of the playbook, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D), cofounder of Accelerator for America, said, “This is not just another plea for money from the federal government. The playbook is grounded in the idea that we all have power from where we sit. We have the ability to invest in infrastructure not just to rebuild America, but in livelihoods for all Americans.”
Several other mayors also spoke at the conference, emphasizing the need not just for transportation infrastructure but also social and broadband infrastructure. Waterloo, Ind., Mayor Quentin Hart (D) noted his city is focusing on a city-central initiative that includes construction workforce training for residents of underserved neighborhoods and apprenticeship programs for youth, as well as improving bikeability and walkability. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke (D) said his city has the country’s fastest broadband network, with 10 gigabits per second. The city was the first in America, in 2010, to offer publicly owned 1-gigabit Internet service.
Berke called publicly available broadband a public good, rather than a luxury—especially during the pandemic. The playbook notes while 50 cities offer this service, 19 states ban it: “Congress can facilitate even greater expansion by preempting state laws that block local governments from building out their own networks.”
The recommendations include: a national goal that 40% of stimulus project hours be performed by those affected by the economic crisis; creation of a national workforce development program as well as regional research hubs; and creation of a medium-sized business enterprise program to supplement the existing Small Business Enterprise program in the industry.
The playbook also urges the federal government to relax its ban on commercial activity at highway rest stops so that electric vehicle charging stations can be installed, and to create a national set of guidelines based on the experiences of cities in implementing "complete streets" that improve quality of life and environmental justice.
“Instead of trying to build back exactly what we had, how do we build back a fairer place, one that has more opportunities for more people?” asked Berke. "We don't want to build back to where we were three months ago ... we want to build to a fairer place."