Knowledge Session: Gauging Growth, Gains from the IIJA

Quantifying the ongoing benefits of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act or IIJA for public dissemination served as the cornerstone of a knowledge session held during the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials 2024 Spring Meeting in Madison, WI.

[Above photo by AASHTO]

Moderator Shawn Wilson – senior vice president for transportation and infrastructure consulting firm WSP – noted that there is no formal national model of tracking the impact of IIJA implementation.

That is why state departments of transportation collectively gathering information will be key to quantifying and conveying the “tangible achievements” facilitated by this legislation.

“Delving into the effective measurement tools, best practices, and points of growth through sharing experiences and strategies, we aim to maximize the long term strategic benefits of the IIJA’s unprecedented level of investment,” explained Wilson, a former secretary of the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the 2021-2022 AASHTO president.

“That will help ensure enduring positive impacts at the federal and state level for this landmark piece of legislation, which is poised to reshape infrastructure development for years to come,” he said.

Garrett Eucalitto – commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation and AASHTO’s current vice president – said his agency experienced messaging issues with the IIJA due to the long-term nature of the some of the projects the IIJA funded.

“Legislators and the public want to see shovels in the ground immediately, but the huge megaprojects we need to do in Connecticut take a long time to complete,” he explained.

“So it has been trying to find that balance between the need to show progress and also the need to invest in future infrastructure needs; the projects we’re not ready to break ground on yet, the big megaprojects that will need about five to 10 years before we’re ready to break ground on,” Eucalitto noted. “So we’re continuing to balance that.”

Chris Peoples, chief operating officer for the North Carolina Department of Transportation, noted that economic conditions are creating additional problems where IIJA funding is concerned.

“Little did we know that our programming costs were going to exceed any of that gain that we got from the IIJA,” he said. “Most of that’s been eaten up with not just inflation, but just in general workforce costs, in terms of workforce availability. Our contractors are dealing with the same resource challenges just like NCDOT is. And it has created a project delivery quagmire, for lack of a better way of saying it, as inflation and workforce costs are taking a pretty big chunk out of that [IIJA] funding that we received.”

Yet Shanté Hastings, deputy secretary and chief engineer for the Delaware Department of Transportation, noted that without the funding provided by the IIJA, “we would be in a world of hurt when it comes to the kind of cost escalation and inflation we are facing. So we are happy that we have it.”

She noted that Delaware DOT has been holding regular meetings with employees agency-wide to keep them abreast of where IIJA funding is going.

“So we do a monthly virtual employee town hall, something we started during the [COVID-19] pandemic, and we’ve now incorporated the IIJA into that,” she said. “We explain to everyone, ‘Here’s the additional funding that we’re getting; here’s what buckets it’s going into; and here is what your role is going to be.’ And we use that same presentation to talk to our legislature through our budget process.”

Dave Slatzer – chief engineer and assistant director of transportation policy for the Ohio Department of Transportation – stressed that perhaps the biggest benefit of the IIJA is that it has allowed state DOTs to keep their infrastructure programs intact and moving forward.

“For us, it’s allowed us to deliver about a $2.5 billion infrastructure program annually [and] created some new programs to really help address areas where we have historically had to under invest,” he said.

“It has also allowed us to move funds around and address some of the other needs and some of the challenges we had throughout the state,” Slatzer pointed out. “It [the IIJA funding] allows our capital program to move forward, which in turn allows us to focus on some of the things that happen with respect to [infrastructure] maintenance. Without federal legislation, without that federal funding, state money would have been pulled over to the capital program; state money that’s used to fund the maintenance and operations side of a state DOT. That is also why the IIJA has been important.”

Related articles