Is there a future for infrastructure mega-projects?

The future of infrastructure mega-projects was explored recently by an international panel of experts in a webinar co-hosted by the Columbia University School of Professional Studies and Global Infrastructure Hub.

The event took place as the global community begins looking towards a period of post-pandemic recovery and what the future of infrastructure may look like. Panellists addressed the timely question of whether there is sufficient payoff for the increased risk and uncertainty associated with complex, large-scale projects.


Overview of discussion

Leading the opening session was Francisco X. Pineda, Faculty and Academic Program Director at Columbia University, and Global Infrastructure Hub’s Chief Content Officer Henri Blas, who noted the global issues of climate change and inequality are playing an increasingly important role in infrastructure mega-project decisionmaking. 

Mr Pineda and Mr Blas also discussed quality infrastructure investment principles and the need to change the way projects are being delivered, with the shift of some authorities to “procuring outcomes rather than things” seen as a positive development.

John Parkinson, Lecturer in the discipline of Construction Administration at Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies, led the ensuing panel discussion.

The discussion centred on the challenges of mega-projects and how government and industry have been responding, including:

  • the evolution of mega-infrastructure projects;
  • the maturity of project delivery methods;
  • the role of resiliency and sustainability; and
  • case studies where government and industry have adapted to deliver the increasing size of public works infrastructure projects.

Highlights of the discussion included:

  • Global Business Development Director at Acciona, Antonio Roig, noted that the case for mega-projects has evolved because of the factors of demography and urbanisation, how public funding is prioritised, the expansion of global commerce and more developed construction methods with advances in technology. He said maintenance is becoming even more important as the stock of ageing infrastructure increases.
  • Eve Michel, Senior Vice President of Development and Chief Architect at MTA Capital Construction and CEO for the Penn Station Access Mega Project said the value of mega-projects is indisputable and that the challenge really is about how to deliver them. She said one important aspect of improving delivery is infrastructure projects moving to a paperless world involving 3D, 4D and 5D technologies that can “advance the project from planning, through surveying, into design, construction and most importantly into operations.”
  • Patrick Askew, Executive Vice President of McKissack & McKissack and Deputy Director of the New JFK Terminal One Project noted there is now a more realistic appetite for risk in the market, but there still needs to be a better balance of risk, which is facilitated by a greater choice of project delivery methods.
  • Daniel Loschacoff, North America Head of Commercial Advisory at Steer explained that mega-projects are increasingly international in nature, with construction firms, component parts, workforces and advisers often coming from a wide range of countries for any given mega-project. He also explained that in the case of transportation, the disruptive effect of technology is leading to the predictability of demand becoming less clear, citing the impact of transport apps and video conferencing as current examples, and the prospect of driverless cars and hyperloop technologies being just over the horizon.

For these insights and more, watch the full webinar above or on YouTube here.

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