From the Editor: Finally! An Infrastructure Bill Passes!
“It always seems impossible until it is done.” That’s the quote from Nelson Mandela the The New York Times chose for its article about the infrastructure bill.
As I write this column, the long-awaited infrastructure bill is reality. I’ve been rerouting my trips on highways; waiting in lines at airports; and standing in crowded, noisy, slow-moving subways for years now. (About as long as I’ve been writing about the need for an infrastructure bill.)
I’ve only had time to read highlights of the bill, but I understand it will provide more than $500 billion in roads, bridges, rail, airports, water, dams and even broadband. In addition, it will put $47 billion toward climate-change actions. You can read more in the news section of Informed Infrastructure and its news website at informedinfrastructure.com/category/news.
I predict those who voted against the bill will be the biggest voices in taking credit for projects completed with these new funds, and I will certainly be watching how this turns out in my state. But as U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “No matter where they live or who they voted for, all Americans deserve to have a transportation system that works for them.”
Of course, this funding is spread across 10 years, so we shouldn’t expect immediate results. We, as engineers, understand the development of projects takes time. But there are many projects that have been sitting on the shelf and can be “dusted off” rather quickly. The creation of jobs will be just as important for many of our citizens. This is what’s important to me at the moment.
Guiding Young Engineers
I’m an adjunct instructor at Valparaiso University, guiding senior civil engineers through two semesters of their senior design project. Part of my curriculum is to help them understand what it may be like when they get their first job. Since I have experience working with engineering companies large and small as well as with government agencies of all sizes, I believe I can help them decide where they may fit in best.
Sure, some of them have been interns or had part-time jobs with engineering firms or government agencies, but we all know how we’ve worked with interns. They’re given various assignments or tasks, but rarely left alone long enough for them to make significant decisions without additional input. Basically, you’re training them and deciding whether or not they have the character, skills and potential to be an employee who will fit in the organization.
However, it has recently been a concern of mine that there wouldn’t be enough funding to do the major projects, except where previous funding had already been earmarked. Government agencies, at least where I’ve traveled the last few years, have been able to take care of basic maintenance of roads and bridges, but not the improvements needed to increase capacity or provide appropriate safety measures. These are precisely the projects my students will want to work on.
A Brighter Future
There isn’t much allure in drawing up plans and specifications for the resurfacing of a county road; but adding lanes to a highway and designing a new bridge are inviting projects. Civil engineering graduates will appreciate entering a dynamic and future-oriented industry. Yes, we all will continue to maintain our facilities, but this new funding associated with the infrastructure bill will create opportunities for young engineers to complete projects they will be proud of.
I want my students to thrive in their careers. I want them to call me in the future and tell me about projects they’ve done. This new funding mechanism will create projects that will be worthy of their skills.