Preparing for Shovel-Worthy Funding

3-minute read.

Purposeful, people-oriented design will be a focus for infrastructure projects seeking federal funding. How can you be sure your project meets the criteria?

In a November 2020 address to state DOT leaders, Biden transportation advisor John Porcari explained that the administration would prioritize shovel-worthy projects for federal funding through an upcoming infrastructure stimulus package.

He defined shovel-worthy projects as “the ones that are actually worth doing, even if they’re not the ones that are the easiest to get off the ground.” 

Porcari urged leaders to “think about transportation investments, not as an end to themselves,” but as a way to improve quality of life, create economic development and local employment and address long-standing inequities in the infrastructure network – as well as mitigate and prepare for climate change.

While an infrastructure package is still on the horizon, preparing for an emphasis on shovel-worthy projects now can help you get the funding you need down the road.

What does Shovel-Worthy mean?

It’s all about outcomes. A shovel-worthy project is one that effects positive change for people, with a focus on the intended outcome rather than the delivery of a completed project.

Projects with increased positive social and environmental impacts and emphasis on good stewardship of resources fall into the shovel-worthy category – projects like improved broadband internet access for all, passenger railway lines, smart technology introduction into infrastructure projects, and clean energy.

Shovel-worthy projects also take a holistic approach to planning and execution, taking steps to align with the best interests of people and the environment. This could mean routing transportation improvements around neighborhoods rather than through them, connecting underserved communities to employment and education opportunities, or phasing projects to improve local employment.  

Stewardship – ensuring that resources like land, energy, public funds, and time are used effectively and efficiently – is a crucial piece of this puzzle. Shovel-worthy projects are outcome-focused, but the means must meet the same standards for improvement as the ends.

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Shovel-worthy projects are outcome-focused, but the means must meet the same standards as the ends.

It’s a lofty goal. Its implications will move the nation toward improving social equity, environmental sustainability, and economic growth in our communities, but what does it look like in practice? How can you make “shovel-worthy” a realistic goal for your projects?

What types of projects will be impacted?

The infrastructure plan is far-reaching. Project types prioritized by the Biden Administration’s upcoming infrastructure package include:

  • Roads and bridges, rail, aviation, public transit, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure
  • The integration of technology, cybersecurity, and machine learning into transit
  • Drinking water, water treatment, and water distribution systems
  • Broadband internet access
  • Revitalization and transformation of former industrial properties
  • Investment in green energy sources
  • Affordable housing, sustainable and safe building practices, and climate change resiliency 

Across these project types, the equitable access and distribution of improvements to address social disparities are essential. 

To determine whether your currently planned projects would be qualified for funding, analyze the project’s delivery schedule, partners, phasing, and impact on the community from many angles and diverse perspectives.

You may find adjusting your project to follow a different route, procuring other parcels of land, delaying or advancing the project schedule, or partnering with a shovel-worthy-aligned firm can improve the project’s qualification. You may need to study the proposed project area in more detail or from different perspectives, working with an expert to determine environmental impacts or learn more about the community’s demographic makeup.

You might also find that the project isn’t the right fit for your community under the shovel-worthy criteria – but that other projects are. By working backward from your desired outcome, you can uncover needs and solve them with a shovel-worthy initiative.

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By working backward from your desired outcome, you can uncover needs and solve them with a shovel-worthy initiative.

How can you align your project with the Shovel-Worthy criteria?

While shovel-worthy remains a new concept, we can expect more robust guidelines and requirements from the federal agencies that will administer this funding.

In the meantime, the ideas laid out in the administration’s infrastructure plans and communications are an excellent framework to align projects with shovel-worthy principles.

All types of projects should have a clear vision for:

  • Intended outcome
  • Resiliency and financial and environmental sustainability
  • Understanding the community, land, systems, and people impacted

With a clear vision for your project’s future, you’ll be able to meet shovel-worthy guidelines and demonstrate positive outcomes toward:

  • Quality of life for people across racial, ethnic, and economic bounds
  • Sustainability, climate change resiliency, and the preservation of the natural environment
  • Improving local employment

Of course, there’s more. Each project type will have nuances, and taking the right steps now can ensure you’re ready to meet funding opportunities when they become available.

To help, we’ve created a quick-reference guide and checklist for aligning your 2021 projects with shovel-worthy criteria. Access it free, here.

Access the free guide.

Get free access to download our shovel-worthy reference guide. 

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