Opinion: It’s time to take infrastructure seriously
By Miranda Patton
As California emerges from 18 months of life altered by COVID-19, commuters, vacationers and freight operators are once again using our highways, streets and transit systems. However, as mobility returns to pre-pandemic levels, the poor state of our state’s infrastructure demands that it is time to commit to investing in local and national public transport projects as a priority.
Fortunately, the governor and the state legislature agree.
In the 2021-2022 state budget recently signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, billions of dollars were allocated to several “transportation funding caches,” indicating a strong commitment to public infrastructure. This funding increases existing gasoline tax revenues (which were cut last year) for our current stock of national and local projects, and has the added benefit of stimulating the economy through the creation of jobs when we need them most.
The Governor’s 2021-2022 Budget Summary says about 11,000 jobs are created for every billion dollars spent on transportation infrastructure, a fitting data point as we look into Labor Day, honoring contributions and the triumphs of American workers.
The Biden administration has come up with a very impressive US jobs plan that also includes significant investments in public infrastructure. I am happy to see that this proposal has been passed in the House and that the deadline imposed by the Speaker is now September 27 to take the next step.
Congress is also considering legislation to re-authorize and expand several federal surface transportation programs. The policy and funding decisions currently before our representatives in Washington, DC offer California a historic opportunity not only to manage years of deferred maintenance, but also to modernize our physical infrastructure systems, thereby improving the safety of people. roads and bridges, supporting resilience and providing a strong economy recovery.
And the state of California must be prepared to maximize this planned federal investment by rapidly increasing the workforce on the project as funds arrive.
This will require the use of all available resources, both in the public and private sectors. Making full use of the private sector allows public agencies to benefit from greater innovation by accessing the vast experience and specialist expertise available in the open market for professional design services. Private consultants, working alongside public employees, provide public agencies with increased flexibility and faster project delivery by matching project needs with experienced design professionals exactly for the job.
Contracts with private companies avoid the long-term unfunded pension and medical obligations associated with heavy use of public employees and avoid the difficult and contentious task of firing public employees when the need arises. design of a public body and infrastructure funding are declining.
In 2019, a full 10 months before much of California was shut down, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its widely recognized annual infrastructure report. California received a barely satisfactory rating: a C-. The California rail system got a C, transit got a C- and our roads got a D.
With the aforementioned state and federal investments, it is possible to increase the score. But it won’t happen overnight. And that will require our state leaders to take full advantage of state and federal government funding by intentionally mobilizing a strong workforce to deliver projects effectively and efficiently.
California’s private design professionals are up to the challenge.
• Miranda Patton is Vice President of Business Development at MNS Engineers in Westlake Village and President of the American Council of Engineering Companies, California.