Written by: Xinchao “Steven” Wei, Ph.D., P.E. who is the Director and a Professor at the School of Engineering in Slippery Rock University.
As many of you ASCE members already know, Pennsylvania’s infrastructure for 2022 received a grade of C minus, according to the 2022 ASCE Pennsylvania Infrastructure Report Card. As civil engineers ourselves, a grade of C- is not something we should be very proud of. It does however emphasize the challenges we are facing and great opportunities for us to make significant contributions to our community, our country, and our profession.
Due to my work and family reasons, I travelled frequently to many places in China in the past two decade (except the past two years due to COVID). I personally witnessed the sea of change to infrastructure that occurred in almost every corner of the huge country (China is as big as the United States) from small villages to megacities. I would say China has been a wonderland for civil engineers and designers in the past two decades; with amazing highspeed rails, highways, bridges, and buildings being built. Some of the infrastructures are so creative, with stunning aesthetics, that they look alien or even crazy to a certain extent. In almost every front, investing in infrastructure has definitely been a way for China to modernize its economy, develop its workforce, and stimulate growth in the science and engineering industries.
While amazed by the rapid infrastructure modernization in China, the typical response from political figures or ordinary citizens is we cannot afford it! I think the questions that are posed should be: How can China afford it? Where does the money come from?
The secret is investment by public funds. Building our nation’s infrastructure is an investment which might not have immediate return but is made for the generations to come. Its impact can be profound; penetrating almost every sector of the economy, just like how it has transformed China in the past two decades. I am glad to see our government made significant investments in the future of this country’s infrastructure through multiple legislations including The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, CHIPS and Science Act, and The Inflation Reduction Act. All of this is exciting news for us as civil engineers and ordinary citizens. We need to give credit to the ones who have worked hard to draft, pass, and sign these legislations to funnel money into infrastructure. But will it be enough? Probably not. Just like our own houses, we need to keep investing in repairs, updating, and lobbying for renovation.Together Let’s Rock Engineering!