The A.I. Interview: Dave Lawry, PE, 2019 President, American Public Works Association

APWA President, Dave Lawry, expresses the organization’s goals: for congress, for sustainability, and for the future


American Infrastructure: What has the APWA been focused on thus far in 2019 and what are some of their goals for the rest of the year?

Dave Lawry: APWA continues to be very focused on its four strategic goals: 1) Serving as the voice for public works to government and the media, 2) showing the value of public works within society, 3) Ensuring that we are providing the best education and credentialing in the field of public works, and 4) continually improving on our engagement with our 63 chapters, 97 branches, and our members throughout the United States and Canada.

As part of these goals we have launched a First Responder campaign to enhance awareness among the public that public works professionals are often the first ones in and the last ones out during disasters. Additionally, we have created an online Fallen Heroes Memorial to recognize those personnel who have fallen in the line of duty.

We continue to advocate in Washington, D.C. on issues of transportation funding, water resiliency, and emergency management. As we move into 2020 we plan to continue important discussions about the impact autonomous and connected vehicles will have on public works and infrastructure in America. APWA wants to provide guidance in preparation for what is yet to come and assistance with understanding trending technology for the public works professional.


AI: What areas of infrastructure is the APWA focused on the most and why?

DL: APWA members are very interested in the future of infrastructure and how to prepare for it. Automated and connected vehicles are showing up in both large cities and small towns. This infrastructure is not something that agencies at all levels of government have funding established for, and they need guidance on how to program for this infrastructure.

From a policy standpoint, APWA’s priorities for the 116th Congress are:

  • Transportation Policy Priorities
  • Water Resiliency Policy Priorities
  • Emergency Management & Response Policy Priorities

APWA is currently working on a specific surface transportation reauthorization policy statement to be released later in the summer. That policy document will specifically address the success of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act (Public Law 114-94) which expires in September 2020, while also looking forward to evolving needs from a public works perspective.

APWA would also like to highlight work on an upcoming water resources bill that is due next year, which serves as an opportunity to make improvements in the Clean Water Act. Our hope is that policy changes in the legislation will give municipalities more flexibility in meeting their environmental protection and public health obligations.

Finally, in regards to critical infrastructure protection, APWA is continually focused on advocating for stronger overall communication and coordination between local government and federal agencies. Being able to have these efficient, effective lines of communication between emergency responders, including public works, is critical for preparedness, response, and recovery operations.

In Washington, D.C., APWA continues to work to ensure that public works interests are best represented in federal legislation and regulations.


AI: What changes have you seen in U.S. infrastructure in the past year?

DL: In the past year there has been more emphasis placed on technology and connectivity by our members. We have also seen increased investment in infrastructure at all levels. While we have not seen an all-encompassing federal infrastructure investment package, we have seen increases in appropriations for transportation, water, and emergency management from funding levels in Fiscal Year (FY) 18 and FY 19.

Additionally, we have seen a welcome change in mindset, as there is now a strong acknowledgement from both political parties that there is a need for new and robust infrastructure investment. There also has been more of a willingness to consider alternative funding measures. We would also like to applaud the local and state governments who have stepped up in an uncertain environment, and operating under an unclear strategy moving forward from the federal government.


AI: How is the APWA focusing on sustainable energy and sustainable approaches to infrastructure projects?

DL: In 2008 APWA established its Center for Sustainability (C4S) to be the driving force for sustainability in public works management while growing the next generation of public works leaders. The C4S develops professional development training and education opportunities for APWA members and promotes a framework for sustainability to assist public works professionals in taking a systems approach to their projects.

APWA is also a founding partner, along with the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Council of Engineering Companies, of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) organization created to develop and maintain a sustainability rating system for all civil infrastructure: Envision.


AI: What do you hope to see from the current administration during the rest of the year?

DL: We would like to see continued conversations between the Trump administration and congressional leaders about how they can come together and roll out a plan for robust investment in our nation’s infrastructure.

APWA’s policy statements call upon government leaders at all levels to define our infrastructure needs and to support our infrastructure with continued investment. APWA specifically defines infrastructure as roads and bridges, dams, drinking water, wastewater, energy, hazardous waste, inland waterways, levees, ports, public parks, solid waste, public transit, and aviation.

We believe the federal government must keep supporting tax-free municipal bonds, increase and index the federal motors fuel tax, develop a long-term funding solution for the Highway Trust Fund, support user-based transportation funding, expand access to innovative finance tools, permanently authorize and expand state revolving loan funds, fully fund the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, provide the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with project contract authority, adopt a long-term Water Resources Development Act, fully fund the National Levee Safety Program, and fully fund the Airport and Airway Trust Fund.