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Infrastructure Challenges

America’s infrastructure investment continues to be stifled by pressure to cut federal spending and reduce the deficit. That means cities will have to be more creative and resourceful in securing partnerships to start or continue infrastructure projects, according to a new study, “Infrastructure 2011: A Strategic Priority.” The report, released this month by the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young, emphasizes the challenge faced by many urban areas trying to provide adequate transportation and infrastructure services for residents, workers and businesses.

The report provides a snapshot of the infrastructure challenges, particularly those related to transportation, faced by 20 major U.S. metropolitan regions – Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

While all are experiencing fiscal constraints, the report cites Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Seattle and Salt Lake City as being particularly successful in moving projects forward, due largely to the willingness of local governments to pool resources and their ability to gain consensus on planning and spending strategies.

Among the trends shown are:
  • More established cities such as Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and San Francisco are forced to retrench on new projects and make triage decisions on repairs that include service cuts and fare increases.
  • Dried-up sales tax revenue cuts into the resources targeted for light  rail corridor extension projects in several cities, including Charlotte and Denver.
  • Cities such as Atlanta, Phoenix and Dallas that don’t provide gas tax revenues or general fund support for mass transit are scrambling for funding sources.

The most promising solution to the nation’s infrastructure shortfalls is to greatly expand public-private partnerships (PPP), the report suggests, pointing to the experiences of Virginia, Florida and Texas with managed toll roads as PPP success stories. “The interest in gaining access to private capital and expertise through PPPs should accelerate as public funding sources diminish,” the report states.

Other recommendations include:
  • Focus attention first on critical repairs and upgrades.
  • Develop a national infrastructure strategy, funding merit-based projects that support the country’s overall economic priorities.
  • Concentrate spending on the nation’s metropolitan areas and global gateways.
  • Provide greater long-term certainty for federal funding to support planning for capital projects.
  • Institute federal and state infrastructure banks to support project financing.
  • Phase in user fees to help fund infrastructure initiatives on a continuing basis.

Mark S. Kuhar, editor
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Member: Construction Writers Association