13 Questions for the Engineering Profession

In my blog post yesterday, I indicated that I would suggest some questions that the engineering profession should be asking itself instead of wasting its time blaming Americans for being too spoiled and short sighted to properly fund their projects.

Here's a quick list I put together. This is by no means exhaustive, but it represents a good start on the internal conversation the profession needs to start having if it is to be relevant in the coming decades. As a licensed professional engineer myself, they might actually get me to a conference if some of these conversations were on the agenda.

1. Does the body of knowledge gained in highway construction (forgiving design) really apply to the construction of local streets and rural roadways or should other models be considered?

2. Can we really build our way out of congestion or have budget constraints now forced us to consider other alternatives?

3. Does the hierarchical road system really work or does it create disproportionate obligations on older parts of the system in favor of modest levels of new growth on the periphery?

4. Do engineers have an ethical obligation to consider whether infrastructure improvements are financially viable over a second life cycle during the initial project planning?

5. Do feasibility studies need to consider long term financial feasibility as well as simple engineering feasibility?

6. Should advocacy organizations within the engineering profession oppose the gas tax and instead support transportation funding mechanisms that more closely correlate the demand for transportation improvements with society’s willingness to pay, even if that means less money for engineering projects?

7. Does the standard approach to cost/benefit analysis accurately represent the long term costs and benefits a project has to society or has it become a tool for obtaining funding for marginal projects?

8. Do engineers have an ethical obligation to consider the intricate relationship between land use and transportation when planning projects, or do engineers continue to simply react to what they perceive to be “the market” for new infrastructure?

9. What should be the substantive difference between a licensed, professional engineer and an unlicensed engineering technician when it comes to the application of industry standards?

10. Should infrastructure spending be used to “stimulate growth” or does support for viable infrastructure improvements emerge from productive growth patterns?

11. Is the proper role of the engineer to serve elected officials in a chain of command akin to the military, or is it instead to be a non-political, neutral adviser that serves society as a whole, including the interests of future generations?

12. How distorting and corrupting are contracts that compensate engineers as a percentage of the total project cost?

13. Does the engineering profession share any of the blame for America’s failing infrastructure and, if so, what should be done to prevent that from continuing?

If there are any more obvious ones I've missed, or if you know of any forum affiliated with the engineering profession where this dialog is actually taking place, please let us know.

Top photo from Wikimedia