Invest in infrastructure: NY’s future depends on today - by Jay Simson

September 04, 2018 - Owners Developers & Managers
Jay Simson, ACEC New York

Infrastructure plays a vital role in the lives of New Yorkers, allowing goods and services to flow smoothly throughout the state. In New York State, 50% of paved roads are in fair or worse condition, and every day 17 million New Yorkers drive over bridges that are deficient. Poor infrastructure adds to the cost of living, which in turn translates into lost productivity, more damage to vehicles, more injuries on our roads, less time with our families and a significant increase in our carbon footprint. Poor road and bridge conditions cost New York drivers $1,500 a year. Everyone can agree that something needs to be done.

Severe weather events have exacerbated the deteriorating conditions and underscored the vulnerability of New York’s infrastructure systems. It is important that New York make the appropriate investments now before conditions worsen. For many years, New York has relied on the federal government to deliver reliable and consistent funding programs for infrastructure. Recently, however, the political atmosphere in Washington, D.C. has brought the Highway Trust Fund to near insolvency with only piecemeal solutions offered at the last minute. 

The Federal Highway Administration has estimated that for every billion dollars spent on infrastructure, 28,000 jobs are created. These jobs will benefit workers with specific skill sets and bolster minority and women-owned businesses. More jobs will positively influence spin-off economies and related service and material suppliers throughout the state. This investment will also result in new tax bases that will pay an immediate dividend. Sound infrastructure will attract businesses to invest in the city, while crumbling roads and bridges will make investment less attractive and could lead to an exodus of businesses and the jobs they create. 

New York’s funding needs are stark, and the benefits of investment clear. This is not just a state-level problem, and solutions will be found only when the federal government provides a long-term transportation bill that addresses the failing Highway Trust Fund. Legislative leaders and industry partners must make it clear to congress that a long-term, stable transportation bill will allow states such as New York to plan long-term capital programs on the state level. 

Government sources of funding are not the only solution, however. The traditional method of financing and developing transportation infrastructure projects was created to protect the public interest by providing substantial public sector oversight of public funds. However, by providing access to alternative financing sources like public-private partnerships (P3s), the state can facilitate the construction of projects that might otherwise have been delayed or not built at all. By infusing private capital, the state can offer vital transportation services without committing capital resources. While P3s mean different things to different people, the public and private sectors already work together to maximize the limited resources we have. 

Utilizing alternative delivery methods like P3s and design-build, in certain circumstances, may be a way to get more projects delivered or delivered more efficiently. Design-build is an integrated approach that provides the owner with design and construction services under one contract with a single source of project responsibility. ACEC New York supported the original implementation of design-build in New York State in late 2011 and supports its continued use and expansion to appropriate projects and circumstances. When implemented correctly, design-build can save money and move projects through the pipeline more quickly and efficiently. ACEC New York urges the governor and the legislature to reauthorize design-build in New York as soon as possible.

In these challenging times, we must not lose sight of the fact that New York State’s infrastructure is a critical component of our ability to return to economic prosperity. To that end, ACEC New York is committed to working with our public counterparts to maximize the benefit of every taxpayer dollar spent on the state’s transportation and infrastructure programs.

Jay Simson is president & CEO of ACEC New York, Albany, N.Y.

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