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From the Editor: Is the ‘Scary Season’ Over or Just Beginning?

Robert Schickel on December 9, 2019 - in Articles, Column

I started thinking about my column for this issue when I received an email from Todd Danielson, the editorial director, with the subject line reading: “Next scary column deadline.” Obviously, it was due near Halloween. A year ago, I wrote about the various “costumes” we wear or characters we play as engineers and how that might change during our careers.

This year, when I received that “scary” email about the deadline, I remembered some of the times during my work life where I was scared or afraid for one reason or another.

First-Day Terror

A common instance for many people is the first day at work. My first day combined several new fears all at once.

It was the nervousness of the first day of my career combined with being in a town I knew nothing about and leaving my wife for an entire day after being married for only two weeks. Then, when I arrived at the district office of the Indiana Department of Highways for my first day of work, nobody there had any idea I was starting that day. After a few phone calls, my fears subsided, and it was determined that I was in the right place.

Fear of Heights and Crowds

Not long after starting, there were moments when I was physically scared. The inspection of a steel truss bridge hit by a truck required me to climb up the lattice work of the vertical member and lean out to inspect the damage to the connections. When I looked down, I saw a river about 40 feet underneath on the outside, and a road about 25 feet on the inside. Looking back, it would have felt better had I been tied off or at least been wearing a hard hat.

Another frightful day was the first time I had to present an improvement project to a huge gathering of citizens at a public hearing. It was controversial, because the local community was concerned (i.e., angry) about the disruption caused by construction and the effects it would have on their lives. Folks were carrying signs and speaking much louder than necessary. I wasn’t offered a college class in crowd control, and it was a dicey situation for a while. But I think we were able to convince them the project had more benefits than negative effects during construction.

I’m sure you’ve also had some scary moments in your career. And I hope you were able to overcome them and, as important, pass those experiences along to others who may experience similar times.

Frightening Headlines

Soon after I got that email from the editor, I looked back at the October 2019 issue. There are some headlines and articles that would scare Stephen King. You can review them at this link (read.informedinfrastructure.com/publication/?i=625257). Here are a few:

Report: Cost of Congestion to Hit $200 Billion in 2025. The cost is already more than $160 billion. Garbage trucks in New York City and other large cities work all night long, because there are areas they can’t get through during the day. I spent a week on the Gulf Coast of Florida south of Tampa negotiating traffic that rivals the worst times in the Chicagoland area. It took an hour to travel 20 miles on a four-lane U.S. highway.

Study Ranks Every State’s Highway System, Finds Road Conditions Worsening. This comes as no surprise to any of us paying attention. After a number of years where traffic fatalities were decreasing, the number is once again rising due to deteriorating road conditions and traffic congestion. There doesn’t seem to be a plan to address this issue, and that should arouse some fear.

Water Scarcity is Common: The Grim Reality of Freshwater Supplies Worldwide. This is perhaps the scariest article of all. The author noted that 11 cities are projected to experience water shortages within 50 years. I never thought freshwater supply would be a major crisis in my lifetime, but here we are.

What About the Future?

I suspect there will continue to be similar headlines in future issues of this publication (and in many other places). Although these major issues may be “scary,” they must be confronted. We can’t let our fears take over to the point that we say things like “there’s nothing I can do” or “it’s the next generation’s problem.” Our current governmental leadership seems to be ignoring these needs or, worse yet, moving backward with deregulation and decreased funding.

We have to take action now so we once again can say “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades” (credit and thanks to Timbuk 3). Our children, grandchildren and people we know are counting on us.

Robert Schickel

About Robert Schickel

Robert Schickel, recently retired, has 40 years of experience in planning, design, plan preparation, and construction management of civil and transportation projects; e-mail: rschickel@v1-media.com.

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