CE Roundtable: What Issue Will Dominate the Civil Engineering Industry in 2018?

Welcome to the first ASCE News Civil Engineering Roundtable, a monthly collection of insights on important industry topics offered by a cross-section of prominent ASCE members.

With “Best of 2017” lists officially in the rear view, it’s time to press forward with 2018. So we asked members to complete this sentence:

As we begin a new year, the issue that will dominate the civil engineering industry in 2018 is ________________.


Terry Neimeyer

P.E., ENV SP, BCEE, F.ASCE, CEO and chairman, KCI Technologies Inc., Sparks, Maryland

… infrastructure funding and how to pay for it.

“ASCE’s Grand Challenge is part of justification for more funding as well as an optimized use of the funds with a focus on total life-cycle costs of the infrastructure and performance-based design and standards for PPPs and design/build alternative delivery processes. Both public and private sectors must be involved if we ever hope to improve upon the ASCE report card grade of D-plus.”


Yvette E. Pearson

Ph.D., P.E., F.ASCE, associate dean for accreditation and assessment, Rice University, Houston

… sustainable, resilient infrastructure.

“With the seemingly endless string of natural disasters we have experienced over the past several months – Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria; the California wildfires; Winter Storm Grayson and the Bomb Cyclone – millions of people’s lives in communities all over the United States have been impacted in unprecedented ways. And the events I’ve listed are just some of those that affected the U.S. in the past six months! There are more in our recent history (for example, the extreme flood event in Baton Rouge, LA, in August 2016) and in other countries (for example, 2017 earthquakes in Mexico, China, Italy, and Iran) from which people are still working to recover.

“With the frequency and severity of these events increasing, civil engineers must provide leadership in building back better – both sustainably and resiliently. Key components of this will be learning from local governments and communities that have experienced success in rebuilding after disasters, designing with communities instead of solely for communities, and teaching our future engineers in a way that equips them to deal with the challenges they will face in the future.”


Greg DiLoreto

P.E., P.L.S., D.WRE, Pres.13.ASCE

… infrastructure funding.

“This could be the most important issue that civil engineers get involved with in 2018. The president has said that infrastructure is his next big agenda issue. Members of Congress are proposing various programs. We have an opportunity to make a difference as we work toward raising the grade of our infrastructure.

“Every day we wait, the costs increase, not only the cost of repairing the infrastructure but the financial hit to our economy and our quality of life. The hours we spend stuck in traffic every day, the broken water pipes that disrupt our lives, weather-related events that show our infrastructure is not resilient, all greatly affect our quality of life.

“Infrastructure affects every American every single day, and the time is now as we are fast moving beyond repair of our infrastructure to replacement. We are living in the 21st century using 20th-century infrastructure and paying for it with 20th-century dollars.”


Brad Aldrich

P.E., F.ASCE, president, Aldrich+Elliott Water Resource Engineers, Essex Junction, Vermont

… continued pressure to restrict or even eliminate professional licensure.

“We have seen rapidly building pressure to restrict the professional practice of engineering as an increasing number of state legislatures and executive branches view laws that regulate the professional practice of engineering as anti-business, unfair, outdated, and unnecessary. This concern hits civil engineers more than any other engineering discipline as the vast majority of civil engineering graduates practice in industry sectors that require a P.E.

“As a group, we have complained for years about the ‘commoditization’ of professional practice, lamented outsourcing overseas, and the preponderance of services that are selected based on price and not qualifications. We know the problem, but fail to act to raise professional practice to a level similar to that of the other learned professions.

“So what can we do? We need to raise the image and stature of professional engineering practice to the public, governmental agencies, our clients, and ourselves. We also need to recognize the trends that have driven us to the state we are in currently. With the growth of computer software, building and other codes that make much of our work rather prescriptive, and other tools to assist with engineering evaluation and design, we have become complacent (and even a bit lazy) in how we practice. We don’t take the time to truly identify innovative and creative engineering solutions to problems as it is quicker and easier to simply allow these tools to do the work for us. We’re so focused on getting the work done within a very lean budget (because we were willing to take on the work at reduced fees) that we are promoting the very commoditization of engineering services that we fear. This needs to change before it’s too late.

“We also need to recognize that future professional engineers (at least civil engineers) will need more than a B.S. degree in engineering to competently practice. ASCE has advocated for advanced education for licensure for over 30 years. Every other comparable licensed profession has recognized this, and adopted post-baccalaureate education as the minimum standard for licensure, except engineering.

“Regrettably, the civil engineering profession has failed to rally around this initiative, and the engineering profession has suffered because of it. We need to take an honest look at where our profession is today and where it is headed. We need to recognize that fundamental changes are needed quickly if we are to even have a profession 50 years from now. Failure to act swiftly is a decision to accept the status quo and the continued devolution of licensed professional practice of engineering.”

How would you complete the sentence? What do you see as the key issue facing civil engineering in 2018? What’s your take on the above responses? Share your views in a discussion on the members-only community, ASCE Collaborate.

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  1. Thank You Brad Aldrich for articulating a concern which I and many of my Colleagues have recognized and discussed, however not as succinctly as presented in your writing. The “Race to the Bottom” is alive and prevalent among Canadian Clients and practitioners as well. In my view it is one matter to achieve a cost effective and conscientious service and another to provide and demonstrate “Value for Money”. It should be the goal of Practitioners to ensure their Engineering products clearly demonstrate the value and efficacy.
    I am a member of Professional Engineers Ontario, (PEO), and a Member of the PEO – Discipline Committee. I would appreciate your permission to show this article to the PEO Council, the Delegates of which represent each of the constituent Ontario Chapters. The goal of this is to present your thought to the Members at Large. Regards and Thanks

  2. A Competitive Nation
    Our population is concentrated in ten major cities and most people define high quality of life as including a single family residence with a back yard. Our cities have grown with no statewide general plans nor country wide general plan. There is no study to determine a city’s most productive size nor a plan to do anything about it when cities grow too big. The cost of having to commute long distances to employment centers drives up housing costs requiring two wage earners instead of one to afford a home, and this in turn drives up wages. As average city size continues to grow, the cost of labor grows, and we will continue to slip further behind other countries on the competitive scale. There are also other consequences as parents are away from home for longer and longer periods a day, and time to refresh ones
    self declines. After World War II even a gas station assistant could buy a small home and support a small family. So for most of the population retirement was secure with ownership of a home. What is to happen in retirement to the one half of the population that currently can’t afford to buy housing?

    This is a run away problem that seems to be on no radar. One solution is a nationwide effort to agree to reduce population growth. Since this is unlikely in the near future, a more pragmatic solution is to build bullet trans to connect concentrated employment centers to sites for new satellite cities. In the long run, it makes sense to create housing centers where the new owners are dependent on public rapid transit. What business would not want cheaper labor? What citizen would not want cheaper housing? What citizen would not want less expensive quality American made goods?


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