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Recap: How Cities Are Reinventing Project Delivery

Monday, August 21, 2023

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, New York City Department of Design and Construction's Eric C. Macfarlane, and City Thread's Kyle Wagenschutz Discuss Reinventing Project Delivery in Cities

Kyle Wagenschutz, Urban Mobility Planner at City Thread; Eric C. Macfarlane, First Deputy Commissioner at the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC); and San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria joined the U.S. DOT’s August 10th virtual event on “How Cities Are Reinventing Project Delivery.” This was the third event in the U.S. DOT Project Delivery Center of Excellence's thought leadership series on Delivering the Benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.  

As the 37th mayor of San Diego, Mayor Gloria is committed to making San Diego a city of opportunity that invests in every neighborhood and every San Diegan. He has focused on delivering infrastructure investments to communities more efficiently, quickly, and equitably. Mayor Gloria has spent his entire professional life in service to the public, beginning his career at the County of San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency.  

At DDC, Macfarlane is responsible for formulating agency policy affecting all executive, managerial, professional, technical, and support staff. He has been with the DDC since 1996 and was previously Deputy Commissioner for Infrastructure, where he was responsible for thousands of critical projects and helped implement important process improvements such as Joint Bidding.  

Wagenschutz is an urban mobility planner and community organizing professional with 15 years of experience implementing place-based programs that prioritize strong community partnerships to accelerate project delivery. He has experience working in both the private and public sectors, having worked for local municipal governments and nonprofit advocacy organizations at all levels. 

The session was hosted and moderated by U.S. DOT Volpe Center Director Anne D. Aylward. 

This post provides a recap of the conversation. You can watch the full event video here

Unlocking Community Challenges with New Implementation Approaches

“One of the joys that we have in working with local communities is that we get to meet and work with people on the ground who are trying to tackle really big challenges. And those challenges sometimes are the challenges that many cities across the country and around the world face every single day,” said Wagenschutz. Emphasizing the findings from the nonprofit City Thread’s work, Wagenschutz discussed how cities and municipalities across the country can accelerate building and completing mobility networks. He highlighted traffic congestion, climate change, and economic development among the shared challenges that U.S. communities face.  

Wagenschutz noted that innovative transportation and mobility improvements could help address these challenges, yet cities often fail to unlock these solutions. Inefficient project delivery was not primarily about funding or procedures, said Wagenschutz. Instead, the issues have been extended implementation schedules; small-scale, disconnected projects; and poor community outreach and communication leading to opposition and distrust. In response, City Thread developed the Accelerated Mobility Playbook to reestablish short-term goals on projects, align and engage community partners, identify resources, and improve consistency in the project delivery process. 

Effective communication is central to this strategy, both internally among partners and externally to the public. Wagenschutz listed paid media and grassroots organization partnerships as methods used to convey their messaging effectively. Cities like Austin, Pittsburgh, and Providence have used the playbook to rapidly complete extensive bicycle networks, introducing new infrastructure and sparking economic development. 

Wagenschutz attributed much of the success of these projects to public support, with surveys showing strong backing for the projects even amid potential trade-offs. This support empowered city staff and leaders to proceed confidently and at an accelerated pace.  

He emphasized that the playbook is scalable, applicable to both small towns and large cities.  

“The solutions here are bound to the ways in which community partners and those of us working in the municipal government can improve our relationships and begin to move faster.” 

Improving Capital Project Delivery with Better Planning, Design, and Building

Macfarlane focused on DDC’s efforts to secure federal funding for various capital projects across city agencies. DDC is a primary consortium manager for over 20 city agencies, managing a portfolio of more than $30 billion in design and construction work. He highlighted the formation of a Federal Infrastructure Funding Task Force to help standardize funding requests and manage the multitude of projects from different agencies in preparation for New York City’s planned request of $2.5 billion by the year's end. 

Macfarlane emphasized that DDC has adopted design-build methods for faster project delivery. Examples include an $80 million garage project completed in 14 months and a $65 million police precinct construction projected for completion in November. 

“We have a continuous focus on planning better, designing better, and building better,” said Macfarlane, noting DDC’s efforts to improve the capital project delivery process through better planning, designing, and building. He stressed improving design contracts and quality through collaboration with architects and using innovative ways to improve and accelerate construction, such as expanded work allowance and early completion incentives. 

Macfarlane also discussed the city’s initiation of a Capital Process Reform Task Force to enhance procurement procedures for project delivery. He identified several areas that required legislative action, including authorization for alternative delivery methods and the ability to bypass certain regulations as an authority. 

Macfarlane acknowledged the potential of design-build and other innovative delivery methods for expediting projects, comparing their efficiency to private sector practices and noted the importance of obtaining legislative support to implement these changes in New York City. 

Reforming Funding Allocation and Optimizing Project Delivery Processes

“Now that the federal government has stepped up to provide communities with the funding to build these projects, we need to make sure that we're set up at the local level to successfully deploy that funding effectively and equitably,” said San Diego Mayor Gloria. He discussed the city's dedication to leveraging the historic opportunities presented by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) to create a more equitable and transformed urban landscape. Mayor Gloria stressed the importance of efficiently utilizing federal funding for projects and highlighted several reform initiatives aimed at optimizing project delivery processes and maximizing external funding, particularly in historically disadvantaged neighborhoods. 

For example, San Diego’s "Built Better SD" initiative addresses disparities in funding for streets, sidewalks, parks, libraries, and other public infrastructure by consolidating development impact fees into a single citywide account. Mayor Gloria noted this move allowed for more strategic allocation of resources—for the city to “put those investments where they're most needed, regardless of where those fees are generated.” The aim is to stimulate private investment in historically neglected areas and promote equitable growth. Mayor Garcia added, “without the investment in public infrastructure, it's very difficult to invite private sector investment into those communities.” 

Mayor Garcia emphasized the impact of these reforms on the city's competitiveness for BIL projects and the ability to meet local match requirements for federal grants. He shared a successful example of obtaining a $24 million grant through the Bridge Investment Program for the Bridge Rehabilitation Safety and Mobility Project on Interstate 805 in southern San Diego, which includes a host of motorist, bicyclist, and pedestrian safety improvements. The project leveraged local funding with BIL funding to stretch limited local dollars and deliver more benefits across communities.  

Mayor Garcia also highlighted other reform initiatives in San Diego to increase funding allocation for infrastructure, streamline permitting processes, and accelerate affordable housing development. He stressed the importance of these reforms in improving quality of life across all neighborhoods and recognized the BIL as critical to helping cities and communities “get where we need to go.” 

View the event recording for the full discussion.  

*The views of the speakers do not represent the views of U.S. DOT.


Sponsored by the USDOT Project Delivery Center of Excellence 

Hosted by the U.S. DOT Volpe Center, the Delivering the Benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law event series is sponsored by the new USDOT Project Delivery Center of Excellence

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center is committed to principles of accessibility and inclusion. If you require reasonable accommodations, please contact collateral duty Disability Program Specialist Stephanie Chase and carbon copy EEO Manager Eliot Sutler on your request.