Ready or Worthy? How to prepare shovel-worthy projects before the next stimulus bill

10 min read

*We will update this article as more information about a potential stimulus bill becomes available

As the Biden administration prepares to take office, there is renewed discussion of a major stimulus package with infrastructure funding a likely component. While no stimulus bill is guaranteed, Biden transition team members and industry leaders have begun sharing guidelines for communities to prepare projects to submit for potential funding. This article will dig into the differences between shovel-ready and shovel-worthy projects, and why the new administration has indicated they will prioritize shovel-worthy efforts. 

What is a shovel-ready project?

Shovel-ready projects are those that appear ready to begin construction at a moment’s notice, once funding is provided. This designation prioritizes a project’s proximity to completion and does not necessarily take into consideration the long term or economic value of a project.

Shovel-ready projects typically offer short-term fixes to long-term problems.

Administration Preference Changes from Ready to Worthy:

Past stimulus packages with an infrastructure element have focused on shovel-ready projects, prioritizing quick turnaround times to spur growth in the economy. With a new administration moving into the White House there is a shift in focus, moving from quick projects that provide short-term economic stimulus to projects that have a larger, long-term effect on local economies. In a recent speech to AASHTO (American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials), former DOT Deputy Director and current Biden transportation adviser John Porcari confirmed this. Shovel-worthy projects, Porcari said, "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."

In addition to project value, it is believed that climate change resilience, safety, and public dollars stewardship will also be points of emphasis in the potential infrastructure package. And it isn’t just massive projects that will receive funding—Porcari stressed the need for a balanced mix of large and small projects.

With all this in mind, how do you determine if your project is shovel worthy?

Questions to ask to help determine if your project is shovel-worthy:

At a project-level, work with your team to answer the following questions.

  1. Will the fruits of this project create positive change for numerous groups of users? 
  2. Will it be sustainable and useful for decades to come? 
  3. Will it reduce flood risk? Increase local resilience to natural hazards? Improve citizen safety?
  4. How does your project create “a bridge to the future”?

If throughout the course of your discussion, you predominantly answer “yes” to these questions, your project is likely shovel-worthy. If not, repeat the process for the next project.

Now that you’ve selected your shovel-worthy projects, let’s move to project preparation.

Preparing your Projects for Funding

  1. For state DOTs, look for a mix of large- and small-scale projects that will be transformative in the long term.
  2. Review your procurement process, Porcari suggests. Is it fast and efficient?  
  3. Use partial Notices to Proceed to get projects started.
  4. Work with your elected officials and other local stakeholders to prepare projects important to your jurisdiction and generate collaborative momentum. 
  5. As a generally wise practice, undertake plans, specifications, and preliminary engineering reports now if you plan to move forward with a project at some point. Design and engineering costs increase every year, so there is a cost to doing nothing.

Regardless of whether a stimulus package with infrastructure funding becomes a reality, the recommendations highlighted in this article are useful for communities to consider for project development and funding at all times. If you have questions about preparing a shovel-worthy project; plans, specifications, or preliminary engineering reports; or positioning your community for federal funding if it becomes available, contact us.

Our Funding Specialists are available to answer your questions and help you plan for your project’s future.