ASCE Report Highlights Best Practices for Equity in Infrastructure


This week, the American Society of Civil Engineers released a new paper, Measuring the Benefits and Burdens of Infrastructure in Disadvantaged Communities. The report looks at how several communities across the country consider equity when investing infrastructure funds, and the impact of those projects on lower-income communities.

Read the report: ASCE Benefits and Burdens Report 2024

Infrastructure investments create equity impacts

Infrastructure, or the built environment, is the foundation of a functional society. Basic physical structures and organizational facilities like roads, bridges, clean water, and dependable electricity are critical to public health and safety, national security, and economic growth. All communities should be able to experience the benefits of modern, reliable infrastructure. In addition, many communities endure burdens from lacking that infrastructure, and more effort is needed to achieve fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people. Burdens have also taken the form of infrastructure designed and placed without equitable and inclusive engagement with affected communities.

Federal infrastructure funding targets disadvantaged communities

Communities across America are currently receiving once-in-a-generation levels of infrastructure investment from the federal government through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Many programs funded or established by these laws must follow the Justice40 initiative established by the Biden Administration, which requires 40 percent of federal spending from certain programs, including energy and infrastructure, go to disadvantaged communities. While the programs highlighted in ASCE’s latest report were implemented before the Justice40 initiative, the case studies illustrate how both urban and rural communities can successfully chart a more equitable, data-driven path into the future.

Case studies feature equity in infrastructure work in Alaska, Texas, California

  • Alaska’s Denali Commission has invested in rural Alaskan communities since 1998. In more recent years, it has developed ranking systems to identify priorities. Economically distressed communities are typically given higher priority during the grant application process.
  • Colonias are rural communities on the U.S.-Mexico border that are defined as lacking adequate water, sewer, and/or decent housing. Texas, home to more colonias than any other border state, has directed investment toward these communities with a combination of state and federal funding.
  • Los Angeles County Public Works has identified equity as one of five strategic focus areas. Public Works is improving services and rethinking how the agency can produce more equitable outcomes. The work intends to identify and reduce disparities that may be produced in the planning, delivery, and distribution of County investments and services and to institutionalize this approach moving forward.
  • Houston’s resilience against future disasters primarily hinges on equitable distribution of resources and availability of services in all communities, including those traditionally underserved or disadvantaged. To measure current resilience weaknesses and identify areas for improvement, Houston decision-makers have utilized an equity indicators methodology comparing outcomes between multiple groups and calculating disparities to reduce with policymaking and operations.

Recommendations to harness equitable benefits of infrastructure investment

Governments and other infrastructure stakeholders have many pathways to harness the benefits of equity in infrastructure investments and address infrastructure burdens for disadvantaged residents and society. The following are recommendations to consider as stakeholders pursue the goal of equitable investment in the built environment.

  1. Capture feedback from stakeholders and local communities through holistic engagement and ongoing relationships.
  2. Use transparent and quantifiable metrics to increase the public’s trust in the process of assessing infrastructure projects and making investment decisions.
  3. Post-project assessment methods are strongly encouraged; the public is more likely to support agency decisions when they can link previous decisions to improvements in their community.
  4. Utilize existing tools like the White House’s CEJST, USDOT’s ETC Explorer, and EPA’s EJScreen as a strong foundation, from which decision-makers can customize with more local data and considerations.
  5. Don’t stop at the analysis phase; make those infrastructure equity data real, and execute subsequent infrastructure investment decisions using your findings. Add new data, tools, and values to inform future project decisions.

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