In July, the Greater Washington Partnership hosted the Metropolitan Civic Leadership Alliance for a daylong convening to share best practices, engage federal leaders, and celebrate the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (also known as the Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act or IIJA).
We caught up with Rolando Amaya, Senior Vice President and Capital District Leader at WSP USA, and Jon Godsmark, Senior Managing Director for Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors, LLC, who joined the convening, to get their assessment on the potential for the Alliance going forward.
The Metropolitan Civic Leadership Alliance includes business-led civic organizations in 11 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas in the United States, representing nearly 20 percent of the country’s population and 30 percent of its national GDP.
1. We had a day full of great discussion with public and private sector leaders from across the country, and federal leaders from the Biden Administration and U.S. Congress, including a reception with USDOT Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg. What were your key takeaways from the Convening?
Rolando Amaya (RA): Infrastructure is the economic engine of growth for a healthy society. Ensuring that today’s infrastructure investments are equitable, sustainable, and aligned with the near-term and long-term needs of its many stakeholders is difficult to say the least. Getting it right is going to take communication and collaboration between the public sector at the local, state, and federal levels, as well as private sector leaders and local citizen groups.
Seeing these groups coalesce with the singular goal of meeting that challenge is encouraging and inspiring. It’s only through working together that we can rise to the challenge of planting the seeds for long-term prosperity throughout the country.
Jon Godsmark (JG): The three big takeaways I had from the convening focused on:
The benefits of sharing lessons learned – many of the programs funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) are new. For agencies that haven’t pursued federal funds previously, or at the scale BIL provides, managing multiple, simultaneous application processes can be a steep learning curve, but there are a lot of resources available to support agencies to understand, access, and deploy funds.
Approaches to mitigating resource constraints – a lot of agencies were resource constrained prior to the BIL and the additional funding is placing greater demands on resources. Being able to tap into surge capacity from sister agencies or on-call contracts can be an effective approach to meeting the demand quickly.
Infrastructure investment is a marathon not a sprint – it has been less than nine months since the BIL was enacted into law and many programs have yet to be launched and we have years of hard work ahead of us to realize its potential. Taking the time to develop a cohesive strategy to deploy these funds so the sum of the parts is greater than the individual investment will be critical to maximize this generational investment.
2. We are nine months into IIJA’s implementation, with much of the bill yet to be implemented. The Alliance discussed each region’s implementation approach, with a constant theme being the need for a quarterback with vested authority to chart the region’s strategic implementation efforts. How are you seeing this come to life through your work? Are there any regions that you may recommend that we look to for a model?
RA: As evidenced by the recent Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant announcements and the administration of other BIL grant programs, BIL is really helping to accelerate much needed projects. From improving Baltimore Penn Station’s connections to the South Capitol Street Trail and the Arthur Ashe Boulevard Bridge Replacement, infrastructure owners throughout the region are relying on this investment to accelerate their infrastructure programs. As these dollars are put to work, it is imperative for groups like the GWP to continue to advocate for equitable and sustainable investments that maximize regional growth.
Specific needs are unique to each region; accordingly, each regional implementation effort should be customized to its respective region. However, it is important to remember that our work isn’t done. We need leadership to continue driving consensus and keeping the spotlight on the importance of investing. BIL and the newly signed Inflation Reduction Act are down payments; we will need continued investment to truly transform our infrastructure backbone for tomorrow. When infrastructure is working as it should, it often goes unnoticed. That’s why it is imperative that groups such as the Greater Washington Partnership continue to lead messaging around these investments and communicate their tangible benefits to stakeholders.
JG: The Partnership for Rhode Island shared a great example of how the public and private sectors can collaborate to develop an integrated strategy, deploy resources, and move quickly to develop competitive grant applications. Nationwide, there are a range of other examples of how states and local communities are coming together to respond to their infrastructure needs. EY advises government clients across the country and there are some great examples of collaboration.
For example, several state DOTs are lending their internal resources, such as economists providing benefit cost analyses and local jurisdictions or Governor’s teams ramping up to coordinate activities across regions and develop strategies to maximize the benefits of individual programs as part of the broader infrastructure system. Infrastructure investment has always been a ‘team sport’ but now more than ever we are seeing sectors converge and the need to collaborate with new entities.
3. What role can the Metropolitan Civic Leadership Alliance play to positively enhance regional benefit of the federal infrastructure program, both for IIJA and future federal infrastructure bills?
RA: Just as it is imperative for the Greater Washington Partnership to lead and drive consensus in the Capital Region, it is important for the Metropolitan Civic Leadership Alliance to continue to do the same at the federal level. It will be important for the Alliance to keep coalescing around common policy goals and advocating for those goals as we continue to deliver tomorrow’s infrastructure.
JG: The Metropolitan Civic Leadership Alliance brings together some of the largest and most dynamic regions of the country. Collectively they are home to millions of people and are a significant driver of growth and opportunity. Friendly competition, coupled with a willingness to share best practices, has the potential to increase the impact BIL funds can have and improve the national competitiveness of our country.
4. IIJA is expansive. What programs or investments are you most excited to see implemented?
RA: As a practitioner, the scope and scale of the BIL creates an era of unprecedented opportunity. What isn’t there to be excited about? This historic investment truly is an accomplishment. From the previously discussed RAISE grants to the new National Infrastructure Project Assistance (MEGA) grant program and the Reconnecting Communities Pilot (RCP) discretionary grant program, there is a great diversity of funding opportunities to support our local communities. However, what I think is even more exciting is the innovative approach to infrastructure investment that underlies these various programs. Both the BIL and the new Inflation Reduction Act are really seeking to integrate equity, sustainability, and climate resiliency considerations into our infrastructure portfolio. That innovative focus is really going to drive future ready investments that will deliver for quite some time.
JG: Increased infrastructure investment provides a catalyst for growth and opportunity and there are many programs that will provide additional capital for improving our infrastructure, but some of the most exciting investments for me are those that are brand new and are going to solve some of our most challenging issues related to access to information, climate change, and reconnecting communities. I look forward to continuing to play a role with the Metropolitan Civic Leadership Alliance to focus on these and other issues to maximize the benefit of these generational investments to improve access to opportunity for all.
5. To close things out, how did you find your way into the infrastructure sector and what keeps you excited every day?
RA: I initially backed into the infrastructure sector. My undergraduate institution (Princeton University) requires engineering majors to start as freshman in its engineering program (you can transfer out; not in). Not wanting to close any doors before I knew what I wanted, I started my freshman year in Princeton’s engineering program. Ultimately, I enjoyed the Civil and Environmental Engineering department’s curriculum best, particularly its impact on our surrounding environment. I began my career working in municipal engineering for towns and counties. I earned my MBA from New York University along the way and ultimately found myself on the Advisory team at WSP (then Parsons Brinckerhoff), where I’ve served in numerous roles for the past 13 years.
When I retire and look back at how I’ve spent my time, I want to be proud of what I helped to accomplish. In the infrastructure sector, and at WSP, I’m fortunate to be part of a team of superbly talented, passionate, and engaged professionals who are driven to impact their community in a meaningful way. We have the pleasure of partnering with infrastructure owners to solve their most complex problems for the benefit of our community. That keeps me proud, motivated, and excited on a daily basis.
JG: Out of university, I worked in consulting for financial service clients. I enjoyed the problem-solving work but was not inspired by the intangible nature of the product. So, when I had the opportunity to join a team delivering healthcare projects across the UK, I was really inspired. From there I have had great fun helping clients and communities solve their most challenging infrastructure needs, which has taken me to work on a monorail in Dubai, a hospital in Bermuda, and now transportation projects across the US. It is fantastic to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team on projects where you can see the impact you are having on the communities around you – my only wish would be that infrastructure projects could progress a little quicker!
The Greater Washington Partnership thanks EY and WSP for sponsoring the Metropolitan Civic Leadership Alliance Federal Infrastructure Convening on July 13th.
The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily those of Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors, LLC, and WSP USA, or other members of the global EY and WSP organizations.