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Final Thoughts: Are We Really Entering a New Era of Infrastructure?

Robert Schickel on February 3, 2017 - in Articles

In the last few issues of Informed Infrastructure, I reminisced about what the work environment was like in my early career as a civil engineer in the infrastructure business and reflected on what has changed. Then I posed questions about what the future may bring. Now, at the beginning of 2017, I look forward to new expectations and what they could mean to our profession.

Problems Leading to Promises

We all know that U.S. infrastructure needs a great deal of attention. We have fallen behind the maintenance curve for far too long.

When I first started working, the Interstate Highway system was pretty much complete in Indiana. INDOT was using all its funds to repair and rehabilitate its own state highways, but the interstate system soon needed updating to new, safer standards, and these needs competed with funding for the state program. There was no new source of funding, so we began to fall behind the curve. This is where we find ourselves today.

We have been promised a new emphasis on infrastructure by the new president. With this promise coming from new leadership, perhaps we can convince those who traditionally oppose increased funding to move in the right direction—the reasons are clear. Other people are much more qualified than myself to discuss this, but it seems obvious that with the economy back on the right track, the timing is perfect to renew efforts to fix our infrastructure.

Consequences of Expansion

If such attention to improving our infrastructure becomes a reality, it will create a new challenge to the engineering profession. A significant increase in the availability of funds for infrastructure will lead to a requisite increase in design needs.

Yet even with advancements in design software and their abilities to produce more-accurate models faster, the need for engineers to produce the designs will increase. In addition, many engineers from the baby boom era are retiring or very near retiring. These opposing
circumstances will place new burdens on our education system to fill the growing need for new engineers and designers.

This will be difficult, but it seems a fortunate set of issues to address: more engineers, more opportunities, more success!

At the Core of Engineers

I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with one of my former colleagues who had taken some time off from the engineering profession for personal reasons. He said he doesn’t regret the time off, but he really misses the “challenges of the profession and solving problems.”

I believe that sentiment is at the core of why engineers do what they do. Perhaps that’s why so many engineers have a difficult time deciding when to retire. For me, that problem-solving challenge has always been very important, along with the knowledge that civil engineers provide an invaluable service to the greater community. When we solve problems and create solutions, we’re providing a better environment for all.

Challenges Continue

Looking back, engineers created and maintained a massive, complex infrastructure that enables people to move about, drink safe water, live in comfortable homes, and enjoy life. We built houses to live and buildings to work, designed highways and bridges to get to and from those places, and created systems to provide water and power to ensure the comfort of a high standard of living.

However, we now face important challenges in continuing to provide a living environment that ensures the safety and comfort of its citizens. We need to take an active role in moving leadership in the direction of progress

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About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel was born in New Jersey and received his BS in Civil Engineering degree in 1971 from Valparaiso University in Indiana. His career started as a bridge design engineer and expanded to include design of various transportation facilities, including highways, bridges, rail lines and stations, and airport runways. Mr. Schickel managed engineering offices ranging from 20 to 140 people. He also served as a consultant to a large utility company. Mr. Schickel currently resides in Indiana and serves as Adjunct Professor for the College of Engineering at Valparaiso University. He enjoys his retired life at his lake house, playing golf, listening to music and spending time with his family, especially his grandchildren.

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