Promote Safe and Resilient Infrastructure

Cities need help building, maintaining and restoring natural and critical infrastructure systems that provide important services, protect citizens and reduce physical vulnerability, while connecting urban assets and neighborhoods.

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Infrastructure systems should be resilient, able to withstand, respond to and adapt more readily to shocks and stresses, and ensure the continuity of infrastructure networks and services over time. Resilient infrastructure systems use robust and redundant design to ensure that possible failures be predictable and safe. Resilient systems are designed to produce multiple benefits and maximize value for the citizens they protect.

Where We Are Today

Cities rely on a range of infrastructure projects for the health, safety and prosperity of their communities. Roads, transit, water, electric, gas and telecommunications networks are the lifelines of a community, providing critical functions and day-to-day services for businesses and households. Universally, cities in the 100RC network report that inadequate investments in infrastructure systems are threatening the resilience of their communities. Infrastructure systems across the U.S. are aging and susceptible to failure, while at the same time being relied on by ever-expanding populations of users. Changing weather patterns further complicate these challenges.

Underinvestment, strained budgets and the pressure of deferred maintenance can be especially profound in America’s poorest neighborhoods, where crumbling infrastructure, and other inequities, are eroding community well-being and hindering the ability of city officials to maintain critical services and address system failures. Atlanta, Dallas and Tulsa report that a lack of transit lines between poor communities and jobs affects connectivity, equity and local economies.

The current system of infrastructure investment is inadequate and ineffective on several fronts:

  • As a nation, we are underinvesting in the infrastructure systems that provide the backbone of the U.S. economy. Infrastructure investment has not kept pace with a growing population, particularly in cities. This creates increased maintenance backlogs, in addition to much needed capital investment to grow service capacity. With declining budgets for infrastructure investment, cities and states often rely on disaster recovery assistance to make needed retrofits, however this money only flows after a disaster has already occurred, when impacts and economic consequences cannot be avoided.
  • Infrastructure systems are not being built or retrofitted at sufficient levels to withstand changing weather patterns, extreme weather events and future climate conditions. Flooding, extreme heat and changes in freeze-thaw patterns will put increasing pressure on our infrastructure systems and make them increasingly susceptible to catastrophic failures, which threaten lives and livelihoods.
  • Much existing infrastructure, built in the early 20th century, is becoming obsolete and it is not keeping pace with the rapidly changing technological needs of cities and communities. Many cities and electrical utilities are seeking to modernize the electrical grid to improve security and better integrate renewable energy. These types of “smart grid” technologies ensure reliable energy, can reduce disruptions during outages and reduce operational costs, however modernizing the grid requires a significant monetary investment.
  • Infrastructure investments are made in agency silos and fail to adequately recognize interdependencies between systems or opportunities to design projects that deliver multiple community benefits and services. For example, transportation agencies design roads and highways without considering or mitigating negative effects on water quality and flooding. Where transportation and environment agencies work together, however, roads and highways can be designed to integrate green infrastructure approaches to manage storm water and flooding and increase the cost-effectiveness of projects.
    Fortunately there is strong political interest in investing in infrastructure, creating opportunities for cities to make infrastructure improvements needed to meet current demands, and ensure reliability of the services they provide. President Trump has called for an infrastructure package of up to $1 trillion and reiterated that investment in America’s inner-cities will be a top priority.
  • Infrastructure investment will also help bolster the economy, create jobs, and ensure that our cities can continue to function as the economic engines for our nation. In 2016, the President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board noted that one dollar of infrastructure spending boosts gross domestic product by $1.59. Infrastructure investment makes sound fiscal sense, and will help build America’s strength while increasing community stability. As federal leaders consider how and how much to invest in the nation’s infrastructure, there are opportunities to make reforms that ease federal barriers and better promote resilient, multi-purpose infrastructure projects.

Federal Roles

The Federal Government provides the major funding source for most large-scale infrastructure projects such as water infrastructure, highways, transit and ports, electrical systems, telecommunications systems, flood control projects and more. In 2014, $416 billion was invested in infrastructure with federal investment accounting for $96 billion while state and local governments spending $320 billion. Federal investment in infrastructure is primarily directed through discretionary spending, made through regular appropriations from Congress. But discretionary spending has declined in recent years across the board. The Federal Government is focusing increasingly on government financing, capitalizing programs that provide loans rather than grants, including State Revolving Funds, the Transportation Finance & Innovation Act (TIFIA) and the Water Finance & Innovation Act (WIFIA).

The Federal Government also sets requirements that recipients of federal funding for infrastructure projects must follow to receive and deploy the money, including planning processes, benefit-cost analyses, and certain standards related to siting and construction of infrastructure. In addition to reforming how infrastructure is funded and financed, the Federal Government should modify other processes and create new mechanisms to encourage resilient infrastructure design.

Strategy: Create a National Infrastructure Bank to further private investments in resilience

Strategy: Improve and align benefit-cost analysis to account for full life-cycle and collateral benefits

Strategy: Create a Department of Defense-city infrastructure resilience partnership

Strategy: Develop metrics for rating the resilience of infrastructure

Strategy: Coordinate efforts of departments and agencies to increase efficiency of disaster response

Conclusion and Potential Allies

Cities universally cite aging and outdated infrastructure as a pressing resilience challenge. The safety and viability of our infrastructure systems are essential to the economic well-being of our cities and the nation. The Federal Government could play a critical role in helping cities rebuild and enhance infrastructure systems by creating and funding a National Infrastructure Bank, improving and aligning BCA across federal agencies, creating partnerships between military installations and their neighboring cities, and by establishing resilient infrastructure design standards.

To support these strategies, cities could ally with collaborators working in different sectors who also support resilient infrastructure, including:

City networks: C-40; the Urban Sustainability Directors Network; ICLEI; the Carbon Disclosure Project; Enterprise Community Partners; The Alliance for a Sustainable Future (a collaboration between the USCOM, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and several private sector partners).

Professional groups and think tanks: American Action Forum; American Enterprise Institute; America’s Infrastructure Alliance; American Institute of Architects; American Public Power Association; American Society of Civil Engineers; American Society of Mechanical Engineers; American Water Works Association; Brookings Institution; Cato Institute; Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure; Enterprise Community Partners; Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; Infrastructure USA; Manhattan Institute; National Institute of Building Sciences’ Multi hazard Mitigation Council; National Society of Professional Engineers; RAND Corporation; Reconnecting America; Smart Growth America; US Chamber of Commerce; and the Water Environment Federation.

Government-related professional associations: State Emergency Management and Insurance Commission officials; Association of State Floodplain Managers and other peril-related associations; Rural Electric Cooperatives; Energy service companies; National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners.

Environmental nonprofits committed to resilient infrastructure: Natural Resources Defense Council; The Nature Conservancy; U.S. Green Building Council.

Infrastructure finance organizations: Sustainable Accounting Standards Board; Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosure; the financial services industry, including credit rating agencies, insurance and reinsurance companies, and institutional investors who are rating, transferring risk and investing in public and private infrastructure projects.