In an attempt to jumpstart repairs of U.S. roadways and begin addressing the huge backlog of infrastructure projects across the country, the U.S. Department of Transportation just announced the opening of the Build America Bureau. At a press conference earlier this morning, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx celebrated the opening of the Bureau, which seeks to streamline the application process for federal funding and help public and private investors obtain loans, support, and expertise.
While the opening of the Bureau doesn’t necessarily come with additional funding, the idea is to make government more efficient to help private donor contribute to large-scale infrastructure projects.
“Opening the Build America Bureau feels like we’re planting seeds for future projects across the nation,” says Foxx. “Now governors and state or local DOTs have a one-stop shop for utilizing federal programs.”
The Bureau, brings together expertise from a variety of agencies, and offers a one-stop shop for access to loans, including the $800 million FASTLANE grant program, highlights Foxx’s belief in more effective government and a focus on public-private partnerships. It will help streamline access to existing funding sources and take advantage of recent funds provided by the FAST Act, the highway bill signed last fall.
The announcement comes after Foxx and the USDOT recently awarded the Smart City Challenge grant to Columbus, Ohio, a forward-thinking plan to fund on-the-ground research in future transportation technology such as autonomous vehicles and smart city sensors. While the government’s commitment to the challenge is $40 million, by allying with numerous private and corporate entities, the challenge has brought together more than $100 million in additional funding from local and corporate sources to test out experiments in new technology. Foxx and others hope by making it easier to start up public-private partnerships, the BAB can serve as a catalyst for other infrastructure projects.
While the optimistically-titled Build America Bureau may make infrastructure projects easier to start and quicker to finish, cutting through red tape by itself won’t be enough to bridge the gulf between the lack of reinvestment and the need for repair and the long-time . The most recent Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers said the country would need to spend $3.6 trillion to repair all the crumbling roads, rails, pipes, power grids.
During the conference, it was noted that today, July 20, was the anniversary of the first moon landing (a sad commentary about where the bar is set in terms of transportation investment). While it wasn’t meant as a direct comparison, that observation does underline the fact that even with a great mission and vision, significant resources need to be committed to make a real difference.