Shovel Ready vs. Shovel Worthy Road Infrastructure Projects

by Andrew Dietz, on November 04, 2021

Shovel Ready Versus Shovel WorthIn November 2020, Biden transportation advisor John Procari gave an address to state DOT leaders in which he explained that the new administration would prioritize shovel-worthy projects for federal funding in its proposed infrastructure stimulus package. He described shovel-worthy projects as those that “are actually worth doing, even if they’re not the ones that are the easiest to get off the ground.” Upcoming legislation seems to confirm this commitment.

On October 20, 2021, Roads & Bridges magazine – as part of its Infrastructure Insider conference - held a roundtable discussion about “Shovel Ready versus Shovel Worthy” infrastructure projects. Tensar’s Paul Schmitz helped moderate the panel. Click here to experience the full panel event.


Meanwhile, here are some key quotes from this valuable conversation:

Tim Bruns, Associate Editor, Roads & Bridges: “The shovel ready concept has done little to improve the quality of America's transportation network. Now is the time to start the discussion of shovel-worthy projects taking priority over shovel-ready.”

Paul Schmitz, Market Manager – Public Roads, Tensar: “The latest ASCE infrastructure report card (2021), shows America’s roads earning a D grade. 58% of roads are rated as mediocre, fair or poor. The report points out that the US has been underfunding its roadway maintenance for years, resulting in a $786 million dollar backlog of road and bridge capital needs. That’s a huge hole to fill. The question is whether upcoming funding for shovel-worthy projects fills that hole figuratively and literally.”

Jim Porter, PE | Vice President, Michael Baker International: I usually defined shovel worthy projects, as projects that have a long lead time for a variety of reasons, have been planned out or contained in a master plan, and are more complex, and have longer lead times than shovel ready projects. These projects typically also involve some sort of community engagement. I'm really rooting for shovel-worthy projects because this is where the need really surfaces, but in my experience in local government, these expensive complex projects just weren't getting done.

Rich Sanders, County Engineer, Polk County, MN: “What entities really need to know from the federal government is that there's going to be consistency with the permitting so that we know that we're going to get those permits in a timely manner. And that because of that, that our shovel worthy projects could get funded.”

Michael Mangione, Senior Vice President, WSP USA: “I don't think it's an either/or choice. We need both shovel-ready and shovel-worthy. We want to get out of the box quickly to have an economic impact like we did in 2009, but we need to strike a balance between speed, impact, and worthiness and benefit. It is important to examine potential infrastructure projects through a lens of overall benefit and really consider equity, climate sustainability and resilience and delivery process and schedule across the board.”

This is an especially important topic with the impending infrastructure bill triggering billions of funding dollars heading towards transportation projects. We hope you have the opportunity to listen in and share your thoughts with us.