The unprecedented and unpredictable events of COVID-19 have caused a lot of uncertainty in the industry and in our economy. However, we can learn a lot from past events.
At the end of 2007, the start of the Great Recession impacted the stability of our economy. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) was passed in 2009 to help drive our economy back to normalcy. In that bill, the stimulus funds allocated $26 billion to states to spend on surface transportation projects. Additionally, another $8.4 billion was allocated for public transportation projects.
This allowed transportation agencies to greenlight shovel ready projects, with great success. But this investment in our infrastructure did more than just keep people employed; it also allowed many very important projects that may not otherwise have been programmed for funding to be implemented. These projects added significant value to our economy by replacing deficient bridges, building new transit stations, upgrading security at existing airports and expanding capacity for hurricane evacuation routes.
If we fast forward to 2020, the need to self-quarantine for almost three months has impacted transportation funding in all sectors. Transit fair box revenues, airport fees, gas tax collections, tolls and other revenues that normally help finance transportation projects have seen major reductions.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, adopted in April of this year, provided some funding relief to transit agencies and airports, but those funds were needed to support continued operations and service. Many capital improvement programs at airports, transit agencies and transportation agencies are either on hold or being selectively advanced to avoid over commitment of funds.
A new stimulus bill that will support surface transportation is an active topic of discussion in Washington. Hopefully, the legislature can approve such a measure quickly and allow some flexibility to agencies in how the funds get expended. While a new five-year transportation reauthorization is fully supported, it will not necessarily provide support for operations, maintenance, and reductions in local revenues.
Our next infrastructure stimulus needs to do as much as possible to allow our public transportation agencies to continue providing service and help support the future mobility needs and safety of the public.
This funding is not a luxury; it is a required service to provide mobility and support to our general economy.
But this funding will also create jobs and provide much needed support for projects that have high public need but are not programmed for construction. If your agency is optimistic that federal stimulus funding may become available, we would like to offer some important tips.
Here are 9 things to consider well in advance of utilizing stimulus funding for your projects:
- Understand the reports and documentation that may be required to satisfy stimulus programs.
- Be prepared to take advantage of methods to streamline permitting and design.
- Position existing projects to take advantage of accelerated project programs well in advance.
- Leverage federal programs by hosting job fairs and helping to connect smaller contractors with job opportunities that can also meet the needs of your project. This can be enhanced by providing job training and employment growth.
- Consider alternative delivery strategies that accelerate project schedules and show visible progress.
- Develop public engagement and public meeting opportunities to promote community listening and maintain project consensus.
- Ensure measures that accelerate the project schedule and attain quality that is top-notch.
- Understand how new, smart infrastructure technology and services can add value to your project.
- Apply risk management procedures to mitigate any challenges and identify solutions efficiently.
Twelve years ago, RS&H associates worked diligently to earn the trust of our clients during the Great Recession. In doing so we helped rebuild our communities, support job creation, and strengthen our economy by implementing projects that may not have happened otherwise.
A sample of the projects RS&H helped implement in 2009 with stimulus funding are provided below. Please feel free to contact us if you feel we can be of assistance in helping your agency be ready for getting back on track.