Whether road, bridge, or rail, public infrastructure projects share a number of challenges. This website outlines the history, current situation, and outlook for five major infrasturcture projects in five states. A recurring challenge is the process of resource allocation. While public demands are potentially unlimited, resources are scarce. Thus, funding is very competitive, and successful projects must expemplify good information and planning throughout all phases.

Despite diligent selection and planning, problems will arise in any large infrastructure project. The projects outlined on this website have faced technical and legal challenges, issues related to political and public support, and funding problems such as cost overruns. In a successful project, decision makers, project leaders, and public managers must be able to handle these unanticipated challenges. Communication between these groups is key to ensure good buy-in from all parties. 

California High-Speed Rail

The California High-Speed Rail is one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects undertaken in the state, if not in the nation. The goal is to build a fully-electric, high-speed rail transportation system that will span from the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles. The project received its first funding in 2008 and has since received large cash infusions from both state and federal sources. However, as costs continue to rise and construction continues at a much slower pace than expected, support for the project has begun to wane. Both legislators and the public hesitate to approve any additional funding for the project, despite the fact that the California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates that they only have one-third of the funding needed to complete the project. Governor Gavin Newsom continues to voice support for the project for both climate and infrastructure reasons, but his impassioned pleas appear to be falling on deaf ears. Thirteen years after voters approved the development of the high-speed rail, the future of the project is uncertain due to significant political and fiscal challenges.

Image source: California High Speed Rail Authority

Gordie Howe International Bridge

The Gordie Howe International bridge is an international project funded primarily by the Canadian government to link the two countries over the Detroit River. This is aimed to compete with and eventually replace the aging Ambassador Bridge. The Ambassador bridge is a privately owned bridge that has linked the two countries since the late 1920's. There has been no shortage of legal battles that range from repairs to criminal charges due to the unique nature of a privately owned international passageway. This is why the need for a government funded, owned and operated bridge is so desperately needed. While every project has it's own challenges the Gordie Howe International Bridge is aimed to learn from the mistakes of the Ambassador bridge and avoid any potential issues. There were funding issues for the bridge, however, both international governments were able to successfully work together to remedy these issues. I believe the mounting political pressure surrounding the outdated Ambassador bridge assisted in the process of approving the plans for the new bridge.

Image source: Windsor-Detroit Bridge Authority

I-30 Crossing (Little Rock)

The I-30 Crossing is a 1 billion dollar project to revamp the 6.7-mile I-30 corridor between I-40 and I-530. It includes widening I-30 up to 10 lanes, numerous ramps, bridges, and a large crossing at the Arkansas River. The project uses an innovative project delivery method called construction manager-general contractor (CMGC), aiming to accelerate construction by using innovative construction methods and designs and giving the contractor more control over the project delivery process. The CMGC project delivery method also seeks to transfer some of the risks of such a large project and give it to the contractor. The contractor agrees to accept this risk because they now have more control over accomplishing the task. However, not all risks can be transferred. Environment concerns have come up in lawsuits to stop the project, and a small “four” letter word has put the funding set aside for the project in jeopardy. Construction continues while lawyers litigate.

Image source: ARDOT

I-35W Bridge (Minneapolis)

The original I-35W bridge was built in the mid-1960s and opened to traffic in 1967. Based on bridge inspections, the bridge was already listed as structurally deficient as early at 1990. The 2006 inspection gave the bridge a sufficiency rating of 50 (out of 100). This would have made the bridge eligible for replacement under the Highway Bridge Program. Under the program, the federal government would have paid for 90% of the project, as the bridge was part of the interstate highway system. Why would the state not take advantage of only having to cover 10% of the bridge replacement cost? Was it because the bridge was only about halfway through its expected lifecycle? If the proper actions had taken place, 13 lives would not have had to be lost that day. Unfortunately it seems as if action is not taken until something bad happens. A bridge can be replaced, the lives lost that day cannot be.

Image source: America's Transportation Awards

I-66 in Kentucky

The I-66 project began in 1990 in Wichita, Kansas, where local business owners envisioned their city at the midpoint of a major coast-to-coast interstate highway. Capitalizing on the legacy of Route 66, they approached local politicians with plans for Interstate 66. The next year, the route was recognized by Congress as a High Priority Corridor. By 1995, a route had been designated in legislation, extending from the Hampton Roads area in Virginia through southern West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Kansas.

For the impoverished regions of southern and southeastern Kentucky, an interstate highway would bring jobs and economic growth. Representative Hal Rogers has been the project’s main proponent in government. As former chair of the House Appropriations Committee, he has brought over $100 million in federal funding for I-66 to Kentucky. To date, only 3 miles of the highway have been constructed. However, with development underway in Somerset, there is new hope for the eventual completion of the route.

Image source: 2008 Kentucky Official Highway Map