In November 2021, President Biden’s administration passed the IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act). The hope was the funding would lead to more jobs, more projects, and ultimately safer infrastructure for all. At that time, I asked the hard questions: Can we make drastic change happen quickly? Do we have enough workers to build all these projects? Will the construction industry in fact leverage technology to be more efficient and work smarter?
Almost a year later, it seems the answers to all these questions are yes—and no.
First, let’s recap. The five-year $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act aims to rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and rails; expand access to clean drinking water; ensure every American has access to high-speed internet; invest in passenger rail; build a national network of EV (electric vehicle) chargers; upgrade our power infrastructure; invest in communities; and tackle the climate crisis. Combined with the President’s Build Back Framework, it will add on average 1.5 million jobs per year for the next 10 years.
How IIJA Is Going
So, how is the process of allocating all that money going? The answer depends on who you ask. At Brookings Municipal Finance Conference in July 2022, four experts addressed several questions about the IIJA. Ryan Berni, senior advisor to Mitch Landrieu, the infrastructure implementation coordinator in the White House, suggests the industry has hit the ground running, but D.J. Gribbin, former special assistant to President Trump for infrastructure, disagrees, saying the “bill is a hot mess.”
When asked specifically about higher inflation and labor shortages, Eden Perry head of the U.S. Public Finance Operation and S&P Global Ratings, says, “What happens with inflation, supply-side disruptions, the difficulty finding workers for projects, the increased wages for workers? We’re expecting that states and local governments may be… focusing on smaller, more impactful projects, or even… stretching out the timing if possible… I think the concern is finding the workers… and paying their wages. I think that’s a huge issue right now.”
Still, even with road bumps, it seems some projects are getting up and off the ground. This year, the White House has released guidebooks for how to approach projects. This summer, the Senate Committee on Appropriations released all 12 of their Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 spending bills. The nearly $1.7 trillion appropriations package includes $653 billion in non-defense discretionary spending, marking a 10.1% increase over FY 2022 levels, and $850 billion in defense discretionary spending, an 8.7% increase over FY 2022 levels. ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) has been closely tracking the FY 2023 appropriations process.
Still, even setting aside how quicky the fund can be rolled out, other challenges loom—like how quickly the construction industry can deliver these large-scale, complex projects, amid both scarcity of people and materials. Add in the need for heightened safety following the COVID-19 pandemic, and it has created the perfect storm for the construction industry.
Naturally, the solution comes in the form of technology—something large infrastructure projects have been leveraging for years, but with all this new technology also comes more data than ever before, and as always, it isn’t always accessible. Too often, data still exists in silos.
“With all this increased pressure, construction firms I talked to, they are trying to manage how do they win projects, how do they manage risk, how do they deliver profitability, and deliver better project outcomes for their customers when the nature of how they have to deliver is making it harder for them to be productive,” says Humphrey.
He suggests at the end of the day it is all about keeping projects in control, tracking budgets and payments, and having the visibility they need to have greater insights into project performance to make better decisions. Bentley’s solution to that is it has honed in on those problems and has delivered a product—SYNCHRO, which has become Bentley’s portfolio and platform for construction management.
With this, civil infrastructure construction projects can leverage the digital twin and use 3D model-based workflows to add construction attribution like 4D schedules and 5D cost and quality information and connect that to live data from the field.
What I really enjoyed the most about my conversation with him was the specific case studies we discussed about how contractors won a bid by agreeing to build an aggregate model or using the technology to accurately capture the actual costs.
I would like to hear from you too. If you have success or are facing challenges, share them with us. The only way we are going to continue to break down the roadblocks on infrastructure construction projects is if we do it together.
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