The Equity in Infrastructure Project, a group of state and local government agencies that seeks to boost disadvantaged businesses’ opportunities for prime infrastructure construction contracts, has picked up more key supporters.

At an Oct. 11 event in Washington, D.C., the heads of six state departments of transportation signed a pledge indicating that they will work toward the group's goal of increasing prime-contracting, joint ventures and equity contracting opportunities for Historically Underutilized Businesses.

The new signatories include the secretaries of the Illinois, Kansas, Michigan and District of Columbia DOTs and the secretaries of the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and the Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development (DOTD).

Those officials were asked to pledge to "significantly increase minority prime contract awards."

The organization was launched last Dec. 7 by two prominent transportation infrastructure leaders—Phillip A. Washington, the Denver International Airport chief executive officer, and John Porcari, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation. 

The group sees a particular opportunity with the huge federal funding infusion in transportation and other sectors from the $1.2-trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Washington, the organization's chair, said at the Oct. 11 event the aim of the coalition is “to increase generational wealth in underserved communities.” Washington also has been nominated by President Joe Biden to lead the Federal Aviation Administration.

He added that the infrastructure equity group wants to “become the model for any public infrastructure agency to change the way it does business—to include all Americans, black and brown [and] women- and veteran-owned businesses."

Toks Omishakin, CalSTA secretary, said in an Oct. 12 statement, "Not all privilege, nor all burdens, have been distributed equally. Those who are underserved and overlooked require and deserve immediate and ongoing inclusion."

Omishakin added, "With an influx of federal and state funding, we have an opportunity to redefine the narrative for transportation infrastructure spending."

Washington said a goal of the organization is to have the top officials of all 50 state DOTs sign the pledge within the next five years.

In the shorter term, he said the organization is working on such things as developing metrics and a data "dashboard" to measure and depict increases in generational wealth. 

Washington, also said the group will be pushing for a national database of certified disadvantaged small businesses. He said that small-business executives now must "run around from state to state" to become a certified DBE and a nationwide certification list would allow companies to "go anywhere in the country and get work."

According to Washington, the organization grew out of the Biden campaign post-election transition groups' work and discussions about possible initiatives and activities of the new administration. Washington and Porcari played key roles in those advisory groups.

One of the new signatories—Dr. Shawn Wilson, secretary of the Louisiana DOTD—said his agency has seen its DBE goals rise in recent years.

Wilson, who said he uses the term “diverse business enterprise,” noted that in 2016 DOTD's DBE goal for its capital program was 8.4% of its $1.3-billion budget.

That has since increased and now stands at 16.7%. Moreover, that represents a larger share of a much bigger capital-program pie of more than $3 billion.

Carlos Monje, U.S. DOT's undersecretary for policy, outlined Biden administration actions related to DBEs. Those developments include a proposed regulation, issued July 21, to revise the department's long-standing DBE program.

Among the proposed changes is "simplifying the interstate certification process" for DBEs, the department said.