Brief Lessons from Local Leaders
How Federal Agencies Can Help Ensure Data-Driven and Equity-Centric Infrastructure Investment
Judah Axelrod, Claire Boyd, Samantha Fu, Karolina Ramos, Chitra Balakrishnan
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Passed by Congress in November 2021, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) provides an influx of up to $1.2 trillion in federal funds to address top infrastructure priorities at the local level. Such a level of spending provides enormous opportunity for communities in need to address major infrastructure challenges. But given the racial inequities left unaddressed or exacerbated by past infrastructure investment, ensuring that funding is distributed to the communities most harmed and in need is a crucial priority.

In accordance with the Biden administration’s Executive Order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government (EO 13985) and the Justice40 initiative, federal agencies are requiring more data and documentation in the application phase of how proposed projects will affect low-income communities and communities of color.

To better understand what it takes for communities to secure funding made available under IIJA, we interviewed representatives of local and regional government agencies and eligible nongovernmental organizations to learn from their experiences applying for federal funding for infrastructure projects that would benefit their communities.

We concentrated on speaking to local actors who are experts in transportation and brownfields revitalization, two types of infrastructure investment that offer clear windows into issues communities of color face and data challenges for localities addressing those issues.

This research brief is designed to lift up key findings from those interviews, with a particular focus on data-driven and equity-centric concerns throughout the application lifecycle. We explore the pressing needs of IIJA applicants, highlight best practices from winners of these discretionary grants, and provide recommendations for how federal stakeholders can ensure that applicants of varying capacities can unlock infrastructure funding for their communities.

Our interviews with experts at the local level coalesced around five core themes:

  • quantifying racial equity and environmental justice
  • measuring the impact of investments
  • facilitating meaningful community engagement
  • contending within the application cycle
  • managing relationships within the local ecosystem

We hope local stakeholders thinking about prioritizing and measuring the impact of equitable investments can benefit from the best practices of their peers who participated in our interviews. And given our recommendations, we hope federal partners can work with them to share knowledge and technical assistance, lift up lessons learned and best practices, and level the playing field for all applicants.

Research Areas Neighborhoods, cities, and metros Race and equity
Tags Community engagement Infrastructure Transportation Race and equity in grantmaking Racial and ethnic disparities Racial inequities in neighborhoods and community development Structural racism Racial Equity Analytics Lab
Policy Centers Office of Race and Equity Research Research to Action Lab
Research Methods Qualitative data analysis Community Engagement Resource Center