Wisconsin’s aging water infrastructure is in desperate need of repair. Many of the specifications, procurement practices and material preferences for these infrastructure projects are equally outdated. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, more than $14.9 billion is needed just for water infrastructure alone. Wisconsinites deserve to know that our 21st century infrastructure will be built upon policies that allow engineers to select the best material for the job and make the best use of taxpayer’s dollars.

Policy Background

There is universal agreement that action is needed and there are many different policy options that can help repair Wisconsin’s water infrastructure.

One such solution would be to adopt policies that promote open competition, which would allow engineers to select the best materials for their project and remove regulatory restrictions that limit them to pre-determined materials. Currently, there are many municipalities within Wisconsin that have statutes, ordinances, or pre-written standard specifications on the books that limit what materials can be used for projects and do not allow many materials that would otherwise meet the performance requirements of a project (and the appropriate ASTM or AWWA standards) to be considered. These regulatory constraints unnecessarily increase the total cost of infrastructure projects by creating de-facto monopolies and block the selection of new innovative technologies.

Policy Position:

  • ACC supports the inclusion of open competition language into state appropriation and authorization legislation so taxpayer funds can be spent wisely and engineers have the authority to make the best choice to complete infrastructure projects.
  • We understand the power of the market to reduce costs to local governments and to drive innovation.
  • ACC believes that when state funds are used, engineers should be allowed to consider all materials and select the best choice through open competition.
  • ACC does not support policies that grant special preference to any single material or takes decision making authority away from project engineers, including not forcing the selection of the lowest bid.

Open Competition in Wisconsin:

Pipes are one of largest single cost components of water and sewer/wastewater systems (U.S. EPA estimates that pipes are 60% of project costs). If the state aims to meet the $8.57 billion in drinking water infrastructure and $6.33 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over the next 20 years that the ASCE forecasts, Open Competition could save Wisconsin $2.5 billion.

While some communities already apply this policy, many areas of Wisconsin have yet to modernize their procurement practices resulting in potentially wasteful spending.

Making the change is not difficult. For example, the Wisconsin Department of Administration provides for Master Specifications/Design Guidelines that are for use by consultants to the State of Wisconsin and by others for construction and remodeling of State owned facilities.

These specifications provide a material neutral set of performance requirements for water distribution pipe across multiple materials including Ductile Iron, PVC, and HDPE.

In addition to the Wisconsin cities already using “open competition” procurement, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Water & Waste Disposal Loan & Grant Program requires an open bidding process. According to the USDA, Wisconsin received $28.2 million across 19 locations for water and waste water projects complying with open competition requirements in FY2018. Another $87 million was provided in FY15/FY16 (No data available for FY17). This policy requires that “In specifying materials, the owner and its consultant will consider all materials normally suitable for the project commensurate with sound engineering practices and project requirements.”

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