Four tips for municipalities and agencies as they position infrastructure projects for federal funding
By Fred Springer
A massive federal investment in infrastructure is high on President Trump’s to-do list for 2017. Around the country, municipalities and government agencies are considering how to get in on what could be as much as $1 trillion in spending.
With this in mind, here are four things to think about as you consider possible projects for this potential federal funding:
1) Start developing well-conceived project plans now that connect to the Trump administration’s interests, such as job creation and manufacturing.
Certainly, projects related to roads and water will always be of interest to the federal government. But also think about technology, a key driver for creating jobs.
While the “green economy” was a priority of the Obama administration, it seems clear that the Trump administration will emphasize helping people from traditional manufacturing industries who have lost their jobs and are now underemployed.
2) Focus on projects where there is a clear community need.
Consider how the federal government will be able to defend your project as a worthy recipient of funding. The feds will look most kindly on projects that are supported by a wide range of stakeholders and will have visible, tangible results.
One example of this type of project is Cascades Park in Tallahassee, Fla. where the City turned an underutilized downtown site into something that benefits the community as a whole. According to the DiscoverCascades.com website, the City worked with the State of Florida to transform a former industrial site into a public park with features that contain and move stormwater in attractive ways.
The park attracts runners, walkers and community events, while a pedestrian bridge project connects to improvements benefiting nearby Florida A&M and Florida State.
3) Make sure you have a sound project that stands on its own merits.
Look for projects that have a champion, are connected to federal interests and/or have the potential for an early return on investment.
A plan needs to include well-thought-out ROI, and needs to show how the government won’t be responsible for success in the long term. Also, the feds may be more interested in enhancing private investment rather than underwriting a project completely.
4) Don’t ignore traditional infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges.
Such projects are always popular with the federal government, but often require innovative funding strategies. As an example, as reported in the Tallahassee Democrat, the new Orchard Pond Greenway toll road north of Tallahassee involved up-front private money combined with a $13.5 million loan from the Florida Department of Transportation’s Infrastructure Bank.
The overarching message from these tips is this: Planning ahead is critical, because slapping together project proposals after federal initiatives take shape won’t work.
Federal officials will be considering hundreds of projects, and sometimes local officials wonder if they should spend time establishing relationships with people who will be in on decision-making. In our experience, having these relationships are helpful in many ways, but won’t be the difference in getting funding for projects.
Instead, focus on planning ahead and understanding what puts a project at the top of the stack. This is what will pay off in the long term.
Fred Springer, a Florida-based attorney at the Bryant Miller Olive law firm, has worked at high levels in both government and private practice, and has extensive experience in all stages of public projects, from planning, financing and procurement to delivery and, if needed, litigation. He can be reached at [email protected].