US: Building for the future - A new federal guide to infrastructure planning and design

Source(s): White House, the

By Jeffrey Zients and Christy Goldfuss

On 5 May, the White House convened the nation’s leading thinkers on infrastructure planning and design to highlight how projects like new roads and transit lines can be designed to foster economic opportunity and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. To help communities seeking to expand their pipelines of well-designed projects, the Administration is also releasing a Federal Guide to Infrastructure Planning and Design. This community resource guide incorporates programs and opportunities from eight federal agencies and lays out a new set of principles to inform the work of local and State governments, public and private utilities, planners and other stakeholders around the U.S.

The guide is part of the Build America Investment Initiative, an Administration-wide effort to help communities design and finance more and better infrastructure projects. As dozens of studies have suggested, the United States is currently underinvesting in our infrastructure by hundreds of billions of dollars per year. And by 2045, our population will grow by 70 million people, and the demands on our infrastructure systems will grow in parallel. For example, we currently move more than 60 tons of freight per person per year – and by 2045, that will grow by 45 percent.

But it’s not just population and economic growth that will put pressure on U.S. infrastructure. Climate change will also test the strength and endurance of the highways we drive on, the airports we fly out of, and the dams, reservoirs, canals and water facilities that provide water to our homes, businesses and farms. The National Association of Clean Water Agencies, for example, estimates that adaptation to climate change will cost water utilities between $500 billion and a $1 trillion over the next 35 years. Given such challenges, we need to be building smarter by anticipating future demands and integrating new technologies and design methods.

That’s why the President launched the Build America Investment Initiative in July 2014 to help the federal government partner with local and state governments and the private sector to finance infrastructure projects and improve how they are designed and built. And communities are already stepping up. In Maryland, Prince George’s County just launched a first-of-its-kind public private partnership to install green stormwater infrastructure, including rain barrels, green roofs, and permeable pavement. The new partnership will support minority business hiring and provide career training and mentoring for workers while installing state of the art systems that improve water quality and build resilience to flooding and other impacts of climate change. It’s an example of how a project can achieve multiple objectives, like economic growth, environmental protection, and community health, all at the same time.

Today’s roundtable – which the White House is holding in partnership with the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation – is designed to highlight and learn from projects like these. Over the past five years, the Obama Administration has worked hand in hand with local and regional partners like Prince George’s County to plan, design and build a range of infrastructure projects. Through the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, for example, the Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency teamed up to provide integrated funding, technical assistance and support to places like Bridgeport, Connecticut, and Memphis, Tennessee, fostering more livable, walkable, healthy and resilient communities. Through our response to Hurricane Sandy, the federal government partnered with Northeastern states, cities and towns to rebuild roads, schools, electric utilities and add or restore other critical assets, like flood protections in the New York subway system. And through the work of the President’s Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, governors, mayors, and tribal leaders from all over the country advised the Administration on how the Federal Government can modernize grant programs and better incentivize resilient infrastructure.

These initiatives demonstrate the benefits of close local, state and federal collaboration and of smart planning. They also helped the Federal government learn what makes for good project planning – and inspired the roundtable and guide that we’re publishing today. The guide includes an extensive list of all federal programs that can help local, state and tribal governments in the early stages of a project’s life. It also includes a set of principles for planning and design that we hope will be a resource for communities around the country as they build projects that will define growth and development in the decades ahead.

Jeffrey Zients is the Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy. Christy Goldfuss is the Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

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