Infrastructure is not just a government problem. Yes, local, state, and federal governments often plan, finance, and own infrastructure as a public good, but when infrastructures fail, or when short-term focus balloon’s the cost of infrastructure projects, we all pay the price.
According to a May 2016 study conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center entitled, “Bridging the Gap: A New Model to Modernize U.S. Infrastructure,” both public and private interests play a role in improving America’s infrastructure. According to the report, America’s infrastructure will require trillions of dollars in upgrades, modernization, and expansion to stay in compliance with the Clean Water Act. This figure is certainly more than local communities can afford, let alone the federal government, which provides ample opportunity for collaboration between public and private entities to finance the growing need for improvements. Which is why the reports provides recommendations to attract $250 billion in private capital over 5 years for funding public infrastructure projects through private revenue streams.
However, there are three main barriers standing in the way of private investment for infrastructure projects. First, public agencies aren’t conducting the appropriate analyses needed to facilitate a project pipeline ready for investors. Second, a lack of public consensus on the long-term priorities of our country creates political risk that deters investment. Third, America’s permitting structure hinders progress due to its bureaucratic and complex nature that often leads to delays, expense overruns, and difficulty for investors to see a return.
To combat these barriers, The Bipartisan Policy Center, proposes seven recommendation to improve infrastructure. First, emphasis must be placed on outreach, engagement, and education of every project. This means beginning project development with a statement of public value, and creating transparency for the engagement and education of stakeholders throughout project development. Second, there must be established a broad project enabling framework that enables public-private partnerships for all types of projects and at all levels of government and a funding mechanism to assist in the up-front costs associated with setting up public-private partnerships. Third, all public assets must be inventoried for physical and economic condition in order to truly understand infrastructure needs. Forth, project delivery and financing should have access to the full range of public, shared, or private options, as dictated by the nature and benefits of the project. Fifth, simplify project development and permitting by delineating agency review and permitting responsibilities and timelines. Sixth, expand revenue options for investors and maximize the use of emerging funding sources that directly engage the private sector. Lastly, increase the variety and strength of financial tools available for infrastructure projects.
These changes, in some cases require legislative or legal action, but the benefits of investing in infrastructure, far outweigh the difficulties. Water infrastructure projects, specifically, default on financing in less than 1% of projects making it among the safest investments. Additionally, the return on investment in water infrastructure is nearly three times the cost in terms of economic development surrounding the project or after completion. These are real benefits, whereas delaying action on necessary projects only create more problems and costs.
The solution provided by the Bipartisan Policy Center is focused on teamwork between the government and private sector and long-term focus. We at the CWC applaud the Bipartisan Policy Center on their report and support many of their recommendations.