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As part of the global launch of the Enabling Better Infrastructure Programme, a panel of infrastructure professionals in New York debated the principles and how they could apply to infrastructure delivery in the US.
The Enabling Better Infrastructure Programme outlines 12 guiding principles to support decision makers around the world in delivering infrastructure investment plans to support their ambitions around sustainable development.
At the New York launch, hosted by Arup, infrastructure professionals, state officials and engineers from across the New York metropolitan area met to discuss the principles and hear from a panel on how to apply the principles in the US. Oxford Economics analysis shows that the infrastructure investment gap to 2040 in the Americas, is the highest for all regions at 47%.
More specifically for the US, the gap is estimated to be an average of $494 billion per year – for roads alone, the estimated need is double the current forecasted spend.
This was the context behind the discussion. How do we deliver infrastructure investment to achieve more sustainable metro-areas, given that federal, state and city structures hinder strategic infrastructure planning?
This hindrance from tiered governing structures for metro-areas was reflected in the panel discussion, which comprised Brian Fritsch from the Regional Plan Association, Dana Hecht from Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and Dana Omran from the Global Resilient Cities Network.
The Regional Plan Association, which fills the gap where pan-metro governance on infrastructure should be, produces detailed plans to inform infrastructure decision making based on need. But this arm’s length approach has its limits, with limited action being taken on some of its recommendations such as funding for the Gateway Tunnel program.
It was suggested state-wide plans for infrastructure do exist, but on paper rather than in practice. Many in attendance reflected on the need for leadership, which was a key theme to come from the Hong Kong preview of the Enabling Better Infrastructure programme.
In the absence of leadership, state officials have been seeking to collaborate to unlock funding. The 47% gap was recognised as a driving force, as this gap will keep growing unless we use infrastructure itself to drive up productivity and take advantage of the returns.
In the area of transport, city officials have been bringing together different projects focusing on standardisation in delivery to try to reduce costs which can then be used to fund future projects. Collaboration is also taking place on pooling resources and technical capability to deliver economies of scale to support ongoing investment.
The discussion also focused on Principle 11 of the Enabling Better Infrastructure report. Many in the room felt there was a need for improvements in how city officials engage with communities. Within that, lessons from Hurricane Sandy have been learned: going to those affected to get their perspective is important.
Carrying this engagement through, as part of enacting Principle 7, was important to ensure projects were design with co-benefits, resilience and multi-purpose use in mind. Using community engagement, to join up programme delivery, was seen as a bottom-up way of stimulating more strategic planning between agencies.
Despite the positive steps being taken, it was recognised that a greater understanding of best practice in strategic infrastructure planning for metro-areas that cut across state boundaries, within a federal system, would be helpful.
This is something the Enabling Better Infrastructure programme will be looking at later this year, if you have any insights or best practice examples to add in this space, email: [email protected]