What will $550 billion in federal funding mean for the heavy civil construction industry? New reporting requirements, staffing needs, and technology expectations could mark a tectonic shift for the heavy civil infrastructure industry when the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passes.
In the first episode of Let’s Be Civil, our new podcast, industry veterans Ron Perkins, Meg the Losen, and Joe Rowland break down the ramifications and expected impacts of the bill in a moderated discussion led by Chad Schafer.
Driving Tech Adoption
One of the key points you’ll find across all of our infrastructure bill discussions is the increasingly essential role of construction technology in our industry. It’s no secret that rovers and drones, BIM and CIM, and various tools for field data capture are becoming more and more commonplace on job sites. As a tech provider, we’ve tried to find ways to incorporate new types of construction data into our administration and inspection platforms. This confluence of data and technology feeds into the next generation of construction management tools, such as digital twins. Our panelists expect these technologies to be not only vital to managing the influx of projects and funding, but a required aspect of federal reporting expectations.
“How can they leverage technology to make them more efficient, promote a collaborative environment, and work better with their project stakeholders?” - Chad Schafer
“I think it’s really going to require a lot of technology to be embraced and adopted by people that want to participate. This is going to be a big stimulus in a lot of different ways, not just getting people back to work, but getting them back to work in more efficient, transparent ways.” - Ron Perkins
Preparing for Funding
The $550 billion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will not be disbursed all at once. There will be a gradual funding rollout, with $20 billion in discretionary grant funding expected in the following year, and some funding not expected to release until 2025 and beyond. That said, organizations need to start preparing for everything from incoming funds to technology and reporting expectations. Our panel suggests looking at your projects and prioritizing which ones are the highest priority for grant funding or the best for testing new technology.
“It puts a lot of money for bridges and roads, specifically for bridge maintenance. So we’re seeing DOTs look at their existing backlogs of projects and probably doing their due diligence and organizing those projects now into what’s the highest priority, what will they get started on first.” - Joe Rowland
“It’s a matter of having to prioritize the projects. Agencies and everyone throughout the industry can be overwhelmed by the technology, there are a lot of buzzwords, a lot of options thrown around. Just pick a few, prioritize, and get your organization bought in to picking a couple projects and technologies and use that as a platform to test.” - Meg the Losen
The Importance of Grant-Writing
In our recent infrastructure webinar, Terry Bills of Esri pointed out that both immediate and future funding will largely be disbursed through a grant-based program. Is your organization prepared for the demands of grant-writing and how to apply for specific grants? Our panel suggests that organizations ensure they aren’t just prepared on the technology and construction fronts, but that their administrative arms also know what to expect when the time for grant applications arrives.
“The participating agencies need to be ready to start applying for these grants, hiring grant writers, making sure they have people on their staff that can go through that process. It’s very time-sensitive and there are a lot of mistakes you can make that you don’t want to make.” - Joe Rowland
“That speaks to the additional workforce pressure. [Grant-writing] is a different skill set, we’re not just talking about needing people out on the site to operate equipment or do inspections, there’s going to be a need for those other types of skills to go through the discretionary grant funding process.” - Meg the Losen
Find Your Champion
The day-to-day pressures and demands of any construction office are never small. Often, lagging technology adoption doesn’t come from a lack of desire or effort, but from a simple lack of time. As adopting new technology becomes necessary to handle federal expectations, whether they end up requiring an online bidding system or a web-based construction management platform, it’s important that organizations assess who their champions are. Who is going to lead the charge towards new tech, new work, new processes? Our panel points out that the biggest organizational changes often start with one individual.
“Watching BIM grow up in the commercial construction sector, in most cases it started with one person who was called a BIM Manager. And it’s clear that the firms that succeeded with their plans to develop a successful BIM program, they had to have dedicated resources. It doesn’t work well when people are running multiple tasks on the side. They’re not focused on it and it doesn’t have the quality that’s going to differentiate you in the first place.” - Ron Perkins
“If you're an owner or an operator of a business, you can’t just think that someone is going to be the driver of technology change overnight. You have to empower them with the right amount of time and the path. It’s not going to be quick and easy.” - Meg the Losen
The Importance of BIM
Many advanced technologies will see more usage as a result of this bill. BIM, Building Information Modeling, or CIM, Civil Information Modeling is the process of using a pipeline of construction data to help create 3D digital representations of ongoing construction projects. While considered new and innovative currently, our panel expects BIM to be considered the norm for project management in a matter of three or four years.
“It’s been a trend for a long time, but agencies are getting more and more serious about requiring projects to be designed in a 3D environment because they understand that a foundation of BIM from design through construction phases really helps build a better digital twin or contribute to a smart city concept. Those things just aren’t conceptual anymore - they’re being proven around the world, frankly, a little bit faster than the United States. I would recommend to almost any firm to realize how you participate on a BIM project.” - Ron Perkins
For a deeper dive into these topics and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, check out the first episode of Let’s Be Civil, here.