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May 30, 2013
“Bridge Collapse in Washington State” . . . Headlines such as this will appear more frequently as the establishment political parties continue to allow the nation’s aging infrastructure to crumble. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the nation’s overall infrastructure condition a grade of D-plus, and estimated that an investment of $20 Trillion is needed by 2020 to bring it to an acceptable state. But instead of investing in infrastructure, the federal government is actively divesting from infrastructure by allowing the tax revenue contribution from the wealthy and corporations to shrink while shifting the tax burden increasingly to the middle class.
Engineers who see this disintegration in the course of their work are called upon to speak out and bring this state of affairs to the attention of the public. Although engineers often pride themselves on being “the good soldier”, doing more with less and not complaining, this instinct can work against the public interest if it puts people at increased risk. Even the most diligent inspecting engineer can miss a critical crack or condition leading to failure, and this likelihood increases as degradation advances. Considering the engineer’s broader social responsibility, she or he must adjust to this worsening situation by referring to another ASCE document: its “First Canon of Engineering” in its Code of Ethics which states that, “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of their professional duties”.
As citizens, our inheritance from past generations is not only the roads, bridges and railroads they built, but also the strong labor movement they developed in the process. Both infrastructure and organized workers created the conditions for a strong middle class. The failure of the current administration and of Congress to support labor and infrastructure is a breaking of faith with both past and future generations. Let us instead come to our own rescue and make much needed investments in sustainably engineered infrastructure.