Infrastructure Outlook: How Technology Will Ensure $1.2 Trillion Worth of Infrastructure Projects
The United States currently ranks 13th in the world in overall quality of infrastructure. However, with the recent passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), the U.S. is poised to make a historic investment in improving the nation’s infrastructure. With an injection of $1.2 trillion into the country’s infrastructure systems during the next five years, it’s critical the funding is put to work in the most-effective manner possible.
One key component in establishing maximum effectiveness is never unintentionally spending the same dollar twice. Another is establishing enhanced accountability—particularly given 92 percent of infrastructure projects experience significant cost (and schedule) overruns.
Technology can drive the outcomes that we, as taxpayers, deserve, ensuring increased transparency, real-time tracking of our infrastructure investment, and highly efficient and effective project management. It also can provide unprecedented visibility into construction projects and provide clarity on how costs, materials, time and resources are spent.
People: Doing More with a Smaller Workforce
The plain truth: the infrastructure industry doesn’t have the people needed to deliver the $1.2 trillion worth of projects in scope of the IIJA, particularly within the legislation timeline. So how can we bridge this gap? There are several strategies—one of the most essential is providing the workforce we do have with the ability to do more.
Technology designed around the complex workflows and multi-stakeholder environment of infrastructure saves time and, therefore, helps individuals and teams deliver more. Picture the last time you had to wait somewhere: perhaps at a doctor’s office, on a bus or in line at a coffee shop. What did you do? You may have taken out your phone and replied to a text, added an item to your family’s grocery shopping list or proposed a new meeting time to accommodate a client phone call.
In short, we can be very efficient thanks to our mobile devices—it’s difficult to remember how we functioned without them. The infrastructure industry stands to make a similar leap in efficiency that will help a limited workforce accomplish the ambitious goals of the IIJA.
Process: Better Decision-Making
Technology not only supports accountability throughout the entire construction process with precise project insights and transparent data reporting, but it also tracks and stores critical data from past and current projects. These may include searchable details of labor and contract agreements, regional spending trends, project sizes and timeline efficiencies.
Project insights, data analytics and accurate reporting capabilities are crucial for the success of the IIJA—it’s simply a matter of finding the most-efficient route to access this information. As such, it’s imperative Congress make informed and accurate decisions about how future infrastructure projects and bills are handled, and how these projects will impact the U.S. economy and citizens.
Additionally, for DOTs and agencies specifically, there are billions of dollars available in the form of competitive grants through the IIJA. However, accessing these funds requires demonstrating eligibility through tracking and reporting.
Technology: Improved Transparency, Reduced Waste
As IIJA funding is administered through the coming years, it’s important both Congress and stakeholders can measure and evaluate the impacts of IIJA-funded infrastructure projects. With modern technology, agencies and DOTs can provide a high level of visibility and transparency to taxpayers and constituents. Providing line of sight into how taxpayers’ dollars are being put to work not only establishes trust but contributes to a virtuous cycle of delivering more in a shorter timeline.
Additionally, agencies and DOTs that have greater visibility across several projects can more easily spot outliers in efficiency. Take, for instance, jobsite waste: Building materials typically account for greater than half the total project costs—yet up to 30 percent of a construction site’s building materials are ultimately wasted. The total volume of construction waste generated worldwide is predicted to reach 2.2 billion tons by 2025. As such, effective management of a construction project’s material usage is critical to reducing waste and, in turn, costs.
Capital project cost overruns approach $1.2 billion on the average project—79 percent of the initial budget—and delays run from six months to two years. These process issues are not sustainable if the U.S. infrastructure industry wants to truly maximize the IIJA’s offerings and make impactful change.
With modern tools, agencies can better monitor material usage to ensure they’re maximizing costs and resources. Hand-written notes and manual data entry can be replaced with digital tools that provide a data-rich view of infrastructure projects. By leveraging real-time data to catch errors early, agencies can reduce budgetary impacts and limit material waste.
The IIJA is a historic opportunity for the United States to improve and create lasting infrastructure that stimulates the economy, supports the domestic job force, and provides stable and safe communities for its citizens. By improving approaches to people, process and technology, owners will be able to use IIJA funding responsibly.
Modern solutions allow the activation of the many people and teams necessary to effectively deliver these large-scale projects. Security, accountability and searchability are table stakes for effective collaboration across these teams. The transparency enabled by technology allows taxpayers to see their dollars at work.
The IIJA is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to shape the future of the United States at a fundamental level. If we leverage the myriad technological innovations that have entered the infrastructure space in the last few years, we will be able to empower people at each level, provide accountability and transparency, and produce infrastructure that will overcome the challenges of the 21st century.
About Katherine Flesh
Katherine Flesh is vice president of partnerships, HeadLight; email: [email protected]