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Taking the High Road Toward Better Infrastructure

The Natural Resources Defense Council recently released its new High Road Infrastructure Handbook, guidance for moving important infrastructure projects forward to realize lasting community benefits.

Today’s challenges of urbanization, variating climate and resource scarcity have introduced unprecedented pressure on the critical role cities serve by providing a foundation for social and economic development.

According to the United Nations, more than half of all people live in cities and human settlements and that ratio is projected to grow to two thirds by 2050. In the U.S., 62 percent of Americans live in cities and by 2050, the number is expected to reach 80 percent. To meet the demands put on our communities in a changing world, the U.S. needs to spend trillions of dollars to upgrade our roads, water systems and other infrastructure.

Since 2015, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has led a cross-disciplinary team charged with exploring opportunities to generate more and better infrastructure investments to build communities in the 21st century. I’ve been honored to be a part of the team, as we’ve worked during the last few years to demonstrate that infrastructure – while extremely valuable for societies – doesn’t need to be viewed as a crisis with a hefty price tag. Rather, we can capitalize on infrastructure improvements as the catalyst for multifaceted and equitable transformation and growth – all we need to do is take the High Road.

The High Road Process, developed by the NRDC study team, helps communities identify funding and implementation strategies for important, stalled community infrastructure projects. The framework identifies how these projects can be implemented in ways that increase the opportunity to realize important community outcomes, such as social, environmental and climate resiliency benefits.

This month, the team released the new High Road Infrastructure Handbook: 10 Steps for Cities Seeking to Accelerate Implementation of More and Better Infrastructure which provides the hands-on guide for implementing each of the 10 steps in the High Road pre-development process in communities.     

The High Road Handbook starts with the important step of establishing community high road priorities and goes all the way through to closing the deal and beginning project implementation. In between it covers all the steps in the project pre-development lifecycle, including identifying financing and funding options, appropriate delivery methods and selecting appropriate procurement mechanisms. For each step, the Handbook identifies key activities, implementation participants, a gage to assess if you have completed the requirements of the step and supporting resources and examples. The content reflects some road testing of the process that the team has conducted in several cities throughout the U.S., feedback by several municipal partners who have participated in the development and testing of parts of the process in their communities, and important input and discussion during several sessions where the project has been addressed during the annual EcoDistrict Summit meetings. 

With forethought and by embedding priority High Road objectives into procurement processes and throughout the project lifecycle, it’s possible to realize objectives such as creating meaningful jobs for local low-income residents, and truly delivering lasting, sustainable benefits such as greater equity within and between communities, cleaner air and water, improved health and the ability to withstand and recover from acute and chronic stresses caused by severe storms and extreme temperatures.

Mike Matichich serves as the lead for Jacobs Financial Services community of practice, where he sees an increasing number of clients interested in looking for ways to increase the likelihood that community social benefits will be realized as infrastructure programs are implemented. Mike served as one of the lead authors of the new High Road Infrastructure Handbook, along with Dena Belzer of Strategic Economics and Doug Sims of NRDC. Find more information about the High Road project, including blogs, white papers and a High Road video on the NRDC site.

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