Infrastructure Inspiration: COG Board Hears Best Practices at Leadership Retreat

Aug 4, 2014
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At COG’s 15th annual retreat area elected officials planners and city and county staff learned of new approaches to rebuilding the region’s infrastructure. The retreat sessions were designed to expand on the recent presentations to the COG Board outlining the pressing need to upgrade the area’s water and energy systems as well as its roads and bridges.

ShaliniBlogSpeakers focused on the need to be creative in planning projects by combining the needs of public and private interests. They said the cooperative approach recognizes the fact that there’s not enough money in the coffers of either sector to pay for current needs.

“Nationally we’ll need about $3.6 trillion (to re-build the nation’s infrastructure) between now and 2020” said Dr. Shalini Vajjhala (right) an engineer and public policy expert who founded Re:focus Partners to design resilient infrastructure projects for urban areas. Her team works to align the needs of the public and private sectors aggregate work on their projects and then meet with finance experts to structure funding.

“What we do is a kind of bureaucratic jujitsu to combine design and finance decisions. The idea is to break the cycle of only building what we know how to build” she added.

As an example Dr. Vajjhala described one of her company’s proposals that would build an underground parking garage in Hoboken New Jersey that would become when needed a stormwater storage facility. The project would avoid the need to build an additional water treatment plant mitigate local flooding and save on insurance costs.

She also discussed the joint timing of projects. For example if a city wants to tear up its streets to install pavement that reduces stormwater runoff there should be a way to combine that project with construction work a private concern or utility might need. With that approach residents would pay for one project that would result in green infrastructure and updated communications cables.

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Dan Carol (left) Director of Strategic Initiatives for the state of Oregon discussed the importance of bundling small infrastructure projects to attract private capital. As Board chairman for the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange he has coordinated projects with two other states and the province of British Columbia in Canada.

In a review of the regional and national economic outlook Anirban Basu (below) an economist and founder of the Sage Policy Group also advised local governments to partner with the private sector to find capital for infrastructure projects. “That’s the only place to get it” he said.

In a welcome counterpoint to the complexity of infrastructure financing Jim Dinegar president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade reminded his audience that the Washington region is a “powerhouse” when it comes to higher education transportation news media national security the hospitality industry and even Bao Bao the baby Panda who has attracted 400000 visitors to the National Zoo. “All this re-growth is why I’m so bullish on the region” he said noting that Washington area is one of four finalists in the running to host the 2024 summer Olympics.

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“We just have to make better use of what we have and make sure everything is efficient and cost-effective.”

As the COG Board has demonstrated its number one priority for 2014 is finding and applying best practices in infrastructure finance from across the country. Stay tuned for a full report on the region’s infrastructure later this year.

About the 2014 Regional Infrastructure Series:
COG has planned a series on regional infrastructure focused on its main areas of expertise such as transportation water energy and public safety communications. Officials hope the series will identify policy advocacy and outreach actions around key infrastructure needs. COG’s officials believe that long-term commitment to capital investment and maintenance of our infrastructure is vital to achieving our Region Forward vision for a more prosperous accessible livable and sustainable metropolitan Washington.

Previous Infrastructure Series Blogs:
Water Infrastructure Investments Key to Region’s Water Quality Goals Health and Prosperity
Officials Launch Series with Discussion on Water Infrastructure (Drinking Water)

 
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