Nestled in the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act among the hundreds of billions dedicated to road improvements, dam repairs, clean energy credits and more is a relatively small sum of money — $100 million — dedicated to construction technology.
The money will be disbursed over the course of five years, in $20 million-per-year increments. Contech advocates lauded the funding as a testament to the importance of technology in the construction space. The necessity has also been recognized by investors, who are pouring record amounts of money into the sector.
As the IIJA approaches its six-month anniversary, the government is soliciting contractors for billions of dollars of infrastructure work, but it has not provided any new guidance about how the act's contech-related funding will be disbursed.
Industry insiders say that important questions still loom: how will the funding come through? Who will decide who gets the money? And how can contractors put themselves in the best position to get that funding?
Experts say that the path the contech funding takes may mimic similar federal programs, in which money initiates from the DOT and the Federal Highway Administration. The funding will most likely trickle down to state governments and, through them, to the contractors working on IIJA jobs.
However, the funding’s track still isn’t set in stone, according to the FHWA, which told Construction Dive in a statement that the agency is obtaining “stakeholder feedback” in order to make sure the disbursement of the funds will meet the standards of applicable U.S. laws and live up to the goals of the IIJA.
“FHWA is taking a strategic approach to assist project sponsors as they implement and deploy advanced digital construction management systems. Once developed, proposals will be solicited to achieve the program goals,” said the statement.
There was no mention of where the solicitations could be found, though the spokesperson pointed to the agency’s web page tracking the IIJA, and said to check back near the end of May to see progress.
Despite that, don’t expect the funding to take any longer than other government programs, said Susan Lent, a partner at Washington, D.C.-based Akin Gump law firm and an expert on transportation and infrastructure. Lent emphasized that it was more a question of manpower and how fast the government could set up these programs.
Additionally, said Lent, contractors can put themselves in prime positions by communicating with their state DOTs on how the government can best implement these programs. Contractors can share their experiences and push for the best uses of technology on different infrastructure projects.
“It’s administered in a way that gives the state DOTs the opportunity, but really focuses on innovation and technologies that will have the best value in terms of achieving real benefits that are aligned with the objectives of the programs in the law,” Lent said.
IIJA’s contech goals and requirements
The IIJA’s contech funding is geared toward what it calls “advanced digital construction management systems.” The IIJA dictates that this type of technology must:
- Maximize interoperability with other systems, products, tools or applications.
- Boost productivity.
- Manage complexity.
- Reduce project delays and cost overruns.
- Enhance safety and quality.
The systems, according to the infrastructure act, will be used at all points of the construction process, from design to build.
Of particular importance in the infrastructure act is the reporting requirement, where state governments that utilize the funding have to make reports on the progress of the implementation of that technology on those projects at least once a year. Benefits that must be included in these reports are:
- Federal, state and local cost savings.
- Project delivery time improvements.
- Congestion impacts.
- Safety improvements for roadway users and construction workers.
“Reporting is something that can be very important,” Lent said.