A Damage Prevention View of the Infrastructure Bill: What we know so far, and how to ready your organization for its impact

Over the past several months, we’ve learned more about the bipartisan Infrastructure Bill that passed on November 15, 2021.  Now that the Bill has passed, it is important to gain a better understanding of the specifics of the bill and what impacts the associated funding is likely to have on the country and our communities.  There are many angles by which people may be assessing the impact of the Bill.  This article is focused on what we know about the Bill, and we will be looking specifically at how the Bill is likely to impact those of us in the damage prevention community.    

What to know about the bill and its scope?

According to whitehouse.gov, the $1.2 trillion bill that passed in late July “includes around $550 billion in new federal investments in America’s roads and bridges, water infrastructure, resilience, internet, and more”.  Many of the dollars that are a part of the bill are a reauthorization of previous funding levels that had been agreed upon, but the new portion of funding ($550 billion) represents one of the largest investments into our country’s infrastructure in US history.  Below are some of the highlights that speak to this: 

  • Largest federal investment in public transit ever 
  • Largest federal investment in passenger rail since the creation of Amtrak 
  • Largest single dedicated bridge investment since the construction of the interstate highway system 
  • Largest investment in clean drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in American history 
  • Ensures every American has access to reliable high-speed internet 

Why should this matter to a damage prevention professional?

Whether you follow the political spectrum or not, the passage of the Infrastructure Bill will likely begin impacting you as a damage prevention professional soon. To make access to the funding as efficient as possible, Congress has chosen to leverage traditional grant program channels that already exist. Based on my attendance at a recent ”Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act Workshop”, organized by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, I can share that those that are eligible for funds are already mobilizing to secure the funds for projects in their communities. Based on this, you can expect to see the initial funding for these projects beginning to be secured over the next several months. Digging related to some of these projects will likely begin during the 2nd half of 2022. 

My organization isn’t likely to be a direct recipient of this funding, so why should we care?

Over the past several months, myself and members of our KorTerra team have been meeting with members of the US Senate and Congress to share some insights related to the damage prevention view of the Bill. The 811 system is already being stretched due to labor shortages that directly impact the abilities of facility owners and contract locators to hire field locators to perform the locate work that is so critical to damage prevention.  

As monies attached to the Infrastructure Bill begin to hit the 811 system in the form of accelerated fiber projects, increased major road rebuilding projects, new rail line construction, or underground water infrastructure reconstruction (as examples), the system in total will begin seeing a significant increase in volume. With more shovels and excavators going in the ground everywhere, an already stretched system will be stressed even further.    

What can we do to ready ourselves?

In an environment where damage prevention professionals are already facing challenges, the prospect of more work being added creates an urgency for teams to optimize their damage prevention organizations to set themselves up to be successful as the monies attached to Infrastructure Bill hit the system over the next five years. Below are some initial Infrastructure Bill readiness items to consider to maximize your success in the months and years ahead. Ask yourself the following questions to assess your readiness.   

  1. People: If there was a 50%-100% increase in ticket volume, what would happen?  How many people would you need to add to your staff to support this increase in work, and how quickly could you do this? Think about your people not only from a “number of people” standpoint, but also from a skillset standpoint. If your volumes increased by 50%-100%, are the people you have equipped to manage this increased volume? What new skills might you need to add to your team from a leadership standpoint or from a business analytics standpoint?   
  1. Processes: On a scale of 1-10, how mature and operationally efficient are the processes that your organization has in place today to support your damage prevention responsibilities? How would this change if there was a 50%-100% increase in your ticket volumes?  What are the top 2-3 areas where you would be challenged, and what can you do to mature these in the time ahead?   
  1. Technology: What are the primary tools that support your damage prevention efforts today? If there was a 50%-100% increase in ticket volumes, would these tools support your needs? Where in your processes could your teams better leverage technology to increase efficiency, improve accuracy, and reduce risk? How accurate is your mapping data and does your organization presently leverage mapping data to help improve locator efficiency or screen tickets where possible to eliminate unnecessary work?   

The Infrastructure Bill is large and the dollars associated will begin to be mobilized in 2022. For those of us in the damage prevention space, this presents a great challenge and opportunity. Now is the time to think about the things you can be doing to ready your organization for its impact. If you haven’t already, begin talking with your leadership about the top gaps in the three categories of People, Processes, and Technology as a great way to center the conversation and prioritize the needs of your program.   

Follow KorTerra’s Infrastructure Bill Education Series as we track updates and continue to dig into the impacts the Bill will have on the damage prevention industry.  

About the author: Jim Plasynski leads KorTerra’s customer retention and acquisition strategy. He is focused on maximizing client value and propelling KorTerra’s growth to continually reinvest in our offerings. Jim shared this Infrastructure Bill insight to an eager audience at the national Global Excavation Safety Conference in Phoenix, AZ in early March.  

 

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