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Resilient Engineering: 6 Tips to Maximize Your Engineering Budget

Rick White, PE

Keeping your public works infrastructure resilient when facing challenges, like a limited supply of dollars or unexpected repairs caused by long-deferred maintenance, is both a science and an art. Here are six ways to get a good grip on budget management by focusing on stretching that seemingly inflexible wallet:

1. Grow your Budget by Finding Outside Funding

With budgets for long-term projects often shrinking without notice and climate change creating unexpected challenges, there’s a real need for department executives to look for outside funding. The Biden administration proposed an infrastructure bill that could top $2 trillion in spending. The focus of this bill is on building and repairing infrastructure that reduces climate change and are resilient from the impacts of natural disasters. You should count on your engineering partner to create a source-and-use-of-funds matrix that focuses on matching various parts of a project with Biden’s infrastructure bill and other state grant and loan programs.

A roadway may have a portion of additional funding for pavement, while a state fund may be used to help pay for landscaping. Many of these grants require local matching funds but using them can stretch a tight budget to cover a big project. Your engineering partner should have experience writing successful grant applications to make sure the project gets all it deserves.

2. Reduce your “First” Costs of Building Infrastructure – Take a Value Engineering Approach

Value engineering involves analyzing all of the features of the project as a whole, including the construction process and materials used, as well as expected quality and looking at what the lowest cost would be to reach that need. Ultimately, it can improve the value of your overall project by optimizing all of its elements.

Ask your consultant if they’re familiar with the Envision process created by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure. Using Envision while planning a project can help it save costs with management and stakeholder collaboration, as well as using efficiency to save money over time.

Constructability reviews are a tactic to consider as well. This is where an experienced consultant can take the construction plan and break it down to find slight modifications that would make the project easier to build and save money.

3. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

The capital improvement projects on your calendar and the budget you’re working with are unique to your department—but odds are an executive elsewhere has handled a similar budget and projects.

Reaching out to peers to get ideas on maximizing a budget is always smart, and it’s also a good idea to talk to your engineering consultant. If their firm has a national reach they’ve probably seen how other communities and departments have handled budgetary pressures, and they may have ideas based on how comparable projects have been planned and developed.

4. Stay Resilient with Asset Management

Resilient infrastructure benefits greatly from a resilient budget. A completed asset management report can be a valuable tool shared with elected officials and the public to show the needs of a department and where funding levels should be to reach longevity and performance goals. If a particular road is currently in good condition and maintenance is reduced to save money, what will it be like in five or ten years? And will that balloon infrastructure costs in the future? Asset management can help you by looking at different scenarios regarding funding, construction, maintenance, and other factors to see what your costs will be long and short term.

A street needing repair may also have sewer or other infrastructure work that’s due underneath the pavement and is managed by another agency. Sharing demo and rebuilding costs with other departments helps both.

Your engineering partner can help you with these forecasts, which may make the case for saving the department money now as opposed to postponing projects to an uncertain future.

5. Use Staff Augmentation for Peak Workload or Special Skills

Partnering with your consultant to provide added staff is a common practice, but it pays to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. Knowing a large project or CIP program is just ahead, adding a program management partner to help handle tasks such as permitting issues, plan reviews, design, construction engineering, and writing grant proposals can help successfully deliver on your commitments.

Since projects and programs are relatively short in duration, staff augmentation allows you to utilize the staff and expertise when you need them, but not require you to keep paying for them when you don’t. You may have a three-year window where a large amount of work is planned, then a break for a couple of years before new projects are ready to start. You’re able to then easily control the size of staff to make it fit the workload and budget.

6. Review Your Fee Structure

Finally, it pays to make sure your permitting fees are on par with neighboring communities and allow you to capture fees in comparison to your costs long-term. If a utility is paying 50 percent less for a construction permit for a street cut or use of right-of-way compared to another city, that’s revenue you’ve lost. You can maximize your budget by performing a few reviews for these services and updating your fees and policies.

Let us help you maximize your budget for resilient engineering. Contact us today.

Rick White, PE, is the President of HR Green’s Governmental Services business line which helps local governments address their most significant issues: increasing revenue without increasing taxes; helping to efficiently manage their programs, and assisting in providing a high level of service to their constituents. Rick can be reached at rwhite@hrgreen.com.

 

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