Every Innovation Starts With A Conversation

The IIJA brought the funding the public and industry has been seeking. We need to ensure that we’re building projects better, faster and smarter, says InfraTalk’s Publisher.

By Gregory Nadeau

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The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — the long awaited and historic infrastructure investment —means $110 billion in additional funding for the Nation’s Surface Transportation Program over five years.  Two years have already lapsed. Additionally, it contains the largest bridge investment since the construction of the Interstate Highway System. Public infrastructure agencies at the state and local level must commit to taking full advantage of these federal funds to advance innovative technologies, materials and practices.

Investing in innovation in planning, development, construction, and operations plays a pivotal role in driving economic growth, improving highway safety, and fostering sustainable development. Public infrastructure agencies can transform the way we design, build, and maintain our infrastructure by allocating funds and providing incentives to promote innovative solutions.

Innovation is not limited to software solutions in digital project delivery, or new age materials themselves (two targeted technology sectors that are a particular focus for InfraTalk America). Investing in our people is also paramount. Training and preparing our workforce, particularly in the public sector, is critical to accelerating the transformation of innovative approaches to infrastructure development and delivery. Our workforce must possess the skills necessary to manage contracts with private sector vendors who are developing and providing project delivery technology solutions at a rapid pace. This is an urgent challenge, but the benefits are immediate and long lasting to taxpayers.

Enhanced Efficiency and Performance: One of the key advantages of investing in innovation is the potential for enhanced efficiency and performance across all aspects of infrastructure. Incorporating cutting-edge technologies and methodologies can streamline project delivery by minimizing delays and eliminating rework – this improves overall project timelines and saves money. For example, the use of advanced data analytics, artificial intelligence, and predictive modeling can optimize resource allocation, identify potential issues, and enable proactive decision-making. Cost savings and improved project outcomes are just a few of the benefits that come with implementing these innovations.

Sustainable Structures and Resiliency: Investing in innovation can also help us realize sustainable development goals. By adopting longer-lasting, non-corrosive construction materials and energy-efficient designs, we can minimize the environmental impact of infrastructure projects. Fiber Reinforced Polymers (FRP) — composites — have been used for years in our nation’s bridge structures and fenders, seawalls, rebar and other applications. While additional federal resources are available, it is time for the bridge and structures community to begin taking advantage of proven and tested composite solutions in pilot projects. Utilizing composites has many benefits including structures having a longer lifecycle, better constructability, lighter weight and little-to-no maintenance requirements.

Economic Growth and Workforce Development: Investment in infrastructure innovation can also act as a catalyst for economic growth and job creation. Infrastructure projects that incorporate innovative technologies and practices require a skilled workforce. This leads to increased employment opportunities and an improved skill set among workers across the industry. 

Additionally, the adoption of advanced infrastructure solutions and alternative procurement strategies can attract private investment. This, in turn, fosters economic development and provides new funding opportunities. Upgrading and modernizing our nation’s infrastructure also stimulates productivity and competitiveness, creating a favorable environment for businesses to thrive. 

Improved Public Services: Innovation in infrastructure enhances the quality and accessibility of public services. By incorporating digital technologies and smart solutions, public transportation systems can be optimized to provide efficient and convenient mobility options. Integrated data systems and intelligent transportation networks can improve traffic flow, reduce commuting times, and enhance overall user experience.  

The optimal time for investment is now: New funding means that projects have the necessary resources to incorporate innovative solutions while enhancing feasibility and quality. The availability of expanded funding allows for a larger scope of innovation, enabling public infrastructure agencies to demonstrate emerging technologies and pioneer new approaches for their program. While financial resources are still available, it is crucial that the Federal Aid Highway Program, administered by FHWA and State Departments of Transportation, provide incentives to encourage the use of innovation in infrastructure projects. Thanks to IIJA, we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely transform how we deliver our transportation infrastructure and build a system that meets the needs of tomorrow. We must seize this opportunity. 

Gregory Nadeau, InfraTalk America’s publisher, has 35 years of experience serving in senior leadership and policy positions at both the federal and state government level. He is the former Federal Highway Administrator under the Obama Administration. Prior to that, he served as Deputy Commissioner of the Maine Department of Transportation.