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From the Editor: Looking Into the 2023 Rearview Mirror

Robert Schickel on February 1, 2024 - in Articles, Column

We experienced some major events in 2023—some exceptionally good and others rather distressing. This review is a somewhat personal look at some of the positive developments and accomplishments, especially in the world of infrastructure and events that affected me (and, I suspect, many of you). Except for this statement, I will refrain from discussing the obvious wars and destruction that affect so many people in the world, and I hope peace soon will come.

The Economy

It’s difficult for me to understand what our economy did in 2023. Lingering COVID-19 effects still had a significant impact, which trickled down to unavailability of products and appropriate work support. And yes, I too complain about how much prices have increased.

But a quick look at the numbers at the end of the year shows that our economy is in very good condition. Even those who know about such things missed the mark on many points, including predictions of a recession and the strength of economic growth. Jobs increased to a point where unemployment was only 3.7 percent as of December 2023. Inflation has been cut in half. It prompted Heather Long, a columnist and member of The Washington Post Editorial Board, to state: “There’s only one appropriate word to describe the U.S. economy in 2023: ‘miracle.’”

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

It’s the two-year anniversary of the law. When I look for details, I find statistics such as this information from the White House website: At the end of 2023, there had been nearly $400 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding, including more than 40,000 specific projects and awards across more than 4,500 communities in all 50 states, D.C., the territories, and for Tribes. In addition, the Investing in America agenda pumped more than $600 billion into manufacturing and clean-energy initiatives.

This was completed by a government agency? I may have to use Ms. Long’s description of “miracle.” I watch as roads and bridges get repaired, and solar farms are being constructed near where I travel. This is having a direct effect on me even in a state where both my senators and most of the representatives voted against this bill. So it goes.

Transportation Improvement

I drive an electric vehicle (EV), and there was recently $7.5 billion made available to combine the electric charging networks in the United States to the Tesla standard, much as has been done in Europe. This will enable more-convenient road trips in EVs with less planning for stops and waiting for available charging stations as more and more EVs hit the roads. I often get delayed at the only charging station between Chicago and Indianapolis. One time, there were 12 vehicles waiting for three operating fast chargers. Luckily, I was third in line. Folks were friendly and only charged long enough to get where they needed to go.

In Florida, the Brightline opened for service in September 2023. I have been “keeping track” of this project for years during our visits to the state. The passenger rail line provides service from Orlando to Miami—a distance of 235 miles—in approximately 3 1/2 hours. It has been reviewed as a great experience just for the ride. I look forward to riding in the upscale train cars and visiting the stations. Although the Brightline—at an average speed of 70 mph—may not compare to the high speeds attained in other parts of the world, it’s a major step forward. In fact, the first “bullet train” in the United States just received funding for a 200-mph line between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

Personal Interests

Locally in my town, there are apartments and a downtown parking garage being built, an ambitious amount of housing developments constructed, and many new restaurants opening. This is a big change from the last few years when so many enterprises had to make significant adjustments just to stay in business. Now we’re back to a period of growth, and it feels much more comfortable (for lack of a better word).

As a side note, another exciting event in 2023—for me and many others—was the induction of Al Kooper, Sheryl Crow, The Spinners, Chaka Khan and others into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I hope to be planning my EV charging stops along the highways to Cleveland this summer to celebrate their success.

I’m encouraged by the progress that has been made in 2023 and anticipate a great year for 2024. I hope we can all contribute to an increased awareness of the need for better infrastructure in the United States and the larger world. 

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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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