T&I: Innovation key to US infra
The first hearing in the 116th Congress of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has resulted in a mammoth discussion on all aspects of infrastructure delivery across all sectors, with P3 once again taking center stage at the committee.
The use of P3 was discussed at length covering a wide range of industry topics including revenue streams, labor, delivery models, P3 offices, regional cooperation including the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange, and Maryland’s Purple Line.
The P3 model was broadly supported by members of the committee and by the 10 witnesses including Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on behalf of the National Governors Association, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on behalf of the US Conference of Mayors and Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on behalf of Building America’s Future.
However technology was the dominant tone of the hearing to the point that even the mantra of the effectiveness of raising the gas tax, which while broadly considered essential, would itself be muted by the proliferation of electric vehicles.
In his opening statement, Chair Peter DeFazio said: “We are in a time of unprecedented acceleration in innovation, and we must harness the power of technology to reduce congestion and emissions, and increase safety. Infrastructure we build today must be able to integrate technological advances, such as autonomous vehicles, as they become a reality. We must also take steps to increase the use of electric vehicles, build an electric backbone for our highway system to move people and goods, and invest in resilient infrastructure, to respond to climate change.
“But all of this will only become a reality if we get serious about finding the money. I am open to any sustainable revenue solution, and will work closely with our colleagues on the Committee on Ways and Means, as well as the president.”
Walz said: “While not all of my perspectives are universally shared by all the nation’s governors, we do all agree that the federal government can be a great partner, especially when it comes to efficiencies and innovation. Federal programs and funding should provide maximum flexibility to the states for implementation and innovation because of our diversity of geography, population and priorities.”
Meanwhile, Garcetti called for a “new model for federal infrastructure spending that incentivizes local and regional funding commitments, invests in the future, and fosters innovative new approaches. I call this ‘I3’ – incentivize, invest, and innovate”.
He proposed that “federal government should reward states and cities for ensuring their assets perform to the level that the public expects — focusing on longer-term lifecycle needs, and using innovation and new technology to deliver results whenever possible.”
Following the hearing Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Sam Graves said: “Technology also needs to be a central part of improving our infrastructure for the future. Integrating innovative technologies can not only make our infrastructure safer and more efficient, it can reduce costs, alleviate congestion, and address environmental impacts.
“I appreciate that our panel today, including our state and local government witnesses, stressed the importance of encouraging innovation, providing the flexibility to more nimbly respond to developments in technology, and streamlining the project delivery process wherever possible.”
There are plenty of ideas and plenty of concepts still to be explored, but this hearing is an important step in finding a way to develop a coherent infrastructure plan that the nation's politicians can all get behind. Coming so soon after President Donald Trump's State of the Union address signaled his intention to find common ground on infrastructure, it suggests there is hope for some proactive federal action in the near future.