Infrastructure Asset Inventory: Sounds boring, but extremely important!

Yesterday morning, the Bipartisan Policy Center hosted a discussion on better management of infrastructure assets at the municipal level. Representatives from Cleveland, San Diego, Detroit, and Washington DC described how their infrastructure inventories had made their cities far more efficient and easier to budget. Let me get right to the main point:

Every city has millions or billions of dollars in assets (transit systems, vacant lots or parcels of land, government housing, schools, roads and bridges, sometimes even sports stadiums, etc.). However, cities often lose track of what they own or what it's worth. This means that enormous value and potential is squandered.

How can cities effectively manage their budgets or invest in infrastructure if they don't know what they own, how old it is or how well it functions, whether to continue maintenance or replace an asset, or what assets could be sold off? Some cities have acres of land that are not used at all. Why not let developers pay for that land instead of letting it sit unused?

These infrastructure asset inventories have done wonders for cities like Washington DC, and they are making cities like Detroit far easier to manage. 

Last point- in Cleveland, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency conducted asset inventories for five counties surrounding Cleveland. This allowed them to identify shared objectives and worthy projects that could benefit the entire region rather than just one county. In this manner, they essentially acted as a regional infrastructure bank but at the county level. This created great efficiency and cost savings. We were able to ask the panel if such benefits could be expected from regional infrastructure banks at the state level. In other words, could we expect such increases in efficiency and cost savings from having a regional infrastructure bank for the entire Northeast United States, the entire Southwest United States, etc. The favorable reaction to this idea was unanimous.

This is The Nonpartisan Policy Alliance's vision for our National Infrastructure Bank system. It would be comprised of a system of regional banks, each utilizing local expertise and identifying critical projects needed for regional development. These banks would be centrally governed, but they would each be given the autonomy necessary to address the unique needs of each region of the country. This is how we maximize the effect of each dollar that we spend on infrastructure development.