While infrastructure is never far from the minds of public works teams, the passing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) is shining a spotlight on the need for comprehensive, data-driven asset management.
The legislation provides over $1 trillion in funds, including:
- $423 billion to extend and expand current programs like the FHWA’s Surface Transportation Block Grant Program (STBG) and the EPA’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF)
- $550 billion for new programs covering everything from repair and rehabilitation of roads, bridges, water, and sewer networks, to broadband and electric vehicle (EV) charging expansion
It is not yet clear how and when funds will be made available to agencies. However, we have insight from a recent memo to state transportation agencies. The FHWA indicated it will work with fund recipients “to encourage and prioritize the repair, rehabilitation, reconstruction, replacement, and maintenance of existing transportation infrastructure” instead of expansion or building new.
With past programs, the distribution of funds has been handled in two ways:
- Competitive grants or loans through federal and state agencies or metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs)
- Population-based formulas from federal or state agencies
As a best practice, your organization should be preparing for both. You’ll also want to make sure you develop a plan for spending the funds before the funds become available. Once funds are available and released, there will be people lining up who have a vested interest in spending that money. By proactively building your plan, you’re creating a decision-making framework to defend the community and your infrastructure. This helps you spend the money wisely and resist the urge to appease some squeaky wheels. It also allows you to be thoughtful and combat some of the pressures that will come your way.
Make sure you are meeting with your engineers, finance department, administration team, and elected officials to ensure the entire organization’s goals are aligned and prioritized.
Asset management is the way to make that happen. Asset management helps you maintain service levels, budget responsibly, and promote efficiency. It addresses these challenges by helping you prioritize investments and operationalize intelligent decision making.
What comes first? Lead line replacement? Road and bridge rehabilitation? Treatment plant updates? Sustainability efforts? If you aren’t sure, this is where strategic asset management comes in. Having good asset management practices in place will help you identify where and how your funding will work best. It will also help create the "why" for your spending. This "why" is valuable as you prepare grants and agenda items for your elected officials, apply changes in your department, and communicate with your residents.
Asset management doesn't have to be difficult or overly complex. To get started, you will need to identify and assess. Where are your assets? Do you have them in a geographic information system (GIS), a spreadsheet, or some type of electronic format? Great! If not, collecting assets could be as simple as handing global positioning system (GPS)-enabled tablets and phones to staff and asking them to create that inventory of assets as they do their day-to-day work in the field. You could also contract asset inventory and assessment providers to identify a variety of specific assets—pavement, signs, facilities, etc.
Once you have an asset inventory, you must know the condition of those assets. This could be as simple as an inspection identifying "good," "better," and "best" or as thorough as a USACE/ASTM standard pavement inspection. This usually depends on asset criticality or level of service by identifying the critical nature of each asset or group of assets. Is this pavement segment used by thousands of vehicles every day? That is a critical asset, where a park bench in the middle of a sparsely used park might not be.
The combination of asset location, condition, and criticality will be the basis for your preventative maintenance plans and developing data-driven planning.
Not sure where to start? Check out the APWA’s Asset Management Roadmap or download Cartegraph’s Asset Management Basics guide.
The most important thing is to get started. You don’t need a long-term consulting engagement. You don’t need a plan for every contingency. You don’t need special software. You don’t need perfection. You do need a willingness to do things differently.
“Perfection is the enemy of progress.” —Winston Churchill
For more information regarding the IIJA and public works, please visit the APWA U.S. Infrastructure Law: Resources for Public Works page.