CSI Helps Yakima Valley Re-Think Infrastructure Investments to Benefit Community Health


Can rural cities reimagine their major infrastructure investments to discover innovative strategies that are not only more affordable locally, but actually benefit community health?

Yakima Valley Conference of Governments (YVCOG) recently invited CSI to help them launch conversations around that question at their Regional ‘Building Solutions’ Summit.

The intent of the Regional Summit is to support regional planning, build leadership, review funding opportunities and explore a range of ideas – with the goal to help each city take home a custom blueprint for success in the coming year.

Given that one of the biggest issues for communities across Washington is investing in infrastructure, YVCOG recruited CSI to help community leaders to understand new tools, like Value Planning, that can help them move forward and innovate.

This gets trickier the closer you look. Yakima Valley, which includes 15 mostly small incorporated cities, has one of the highest poverty rates in Washington State, a significant tribal population which includes the neighboring Yakama Nation, and a majority Latino population, a portion of whom speak only Spanish.  For decades, Yakima County routinely scores among the lowest-performing counties for many common socioeconomic indicators. Generating funds to address deficient infrastructure in the face of the Valley’s pervasive poverty is especially challenging given that roughly two-thirds of Yakima County’s land mass is held in state, federal, or tribal ownership and is therefore non-taxable.

Another challenge: Often, it’s difficult to pin down all the many projects in the infrastructure pipeline, prioritize them and pay for them in existing city budgets --- and Yakima Valley is no exception.

So over the course of several months leading up to the regional summit – CSI worked closely with YVCOG to inventory water-related and transportation capital projects prioritized by local communities, looking two to five years out. Our incredibly resourceful Evergreen State College intern, Lindsay Walters,  found over 300 projects totaling more than $158 million, listed in local capital plans.  This positioned YVCOG to identify strategic opportunities for cross-jurisdictional collaboration to achieve efficiencies and reduce costs, and to identify projects especially well-suited for Value Planning innovation.

Value planning is recognized as a powerful tool for the early planning of a capital project, before engineering or design work begins, where the greatest productivity gains and cost savings can be found. Instead of ‘just’ investing $10 million in, say, a conventionally engineered road widening project, it allows communities to take a step back to look more comprehensively at portfolios of street investments that can best benefit the economic vitality, infrastructure, and quality-of-life of the community.

YVCOG recognizes that Value Planning could also help address the serious community health issues faced by many Valley communities. There’s a growing body of work demonstrating that smart infrastructure investments can positively influence community health outcomes. For example, Pew Charitable Trusts suggests, “Physical attributes of a community, including streets, parks and open spaces, housing and buildings, can affect health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and injury by influencing residents’ activity levels, sense of safety and social interactions.” Yakima Valley has the added challenge of water issues; many residents of the Southern Valley are plagued by drinking water contamination.

Over the last year, CSI’s Innovation Lab consulting service has been bringing our innovative value planning approach to communities across the Northwest including Olympia, Raymond, Tonasket, John Day, Stevenson and others to help them get maximum return for the community from their infrastructure investment.

We are finding that communities across the Northwest, like those in the Yakima Valley, welcome value planning so they can get pragmatic but innovative solutions that bring much more value at the same or lower cost as conventional infrastructure.

Interested in learning more about CSI’s value planning services? Contact Lisa McCrummen at lisa@centerforsi.org

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