Tough Decisions

Dec. 6, 2022
There was tough competition for the 2022 Top 10 Roads & Bridges Awards

Thank you to everyone who submitted projects to our Top 10 Awards this year.

I am so grateful to everyone who took the time to fill out a submission form.

This is my second year judging our Top 10 Awards. I thought choosing winners would get easier now that I have more experience, but that was far from the truth.

So, what caught our eye? How did we make these decisions?

We’re suckers for narrative, and narrative is born out of conflict. Therefore, we loved submissions that explained the challenges that teams faced on the job, and how they overcame those hurdles to get the job done.

Stories about teams coming together to accomplish a goal will never get old.

Given the poor state of America’s infrastructure, we also were attracted to need. Projects that desperately needed to be accomplished to improve the lives of those in that region.

And then, of course, there’s innovation and design: where the nuts and bolts of the job meets the technology shaping how the jobsite operates.

Our two winners — the I-69 Finish Line in Indiana and the I-74 Mississippi Bridge in Iowa and Illinois — epitomized these traits and more. I’m honored to present them to you as our No. 1 Road and No. 1 Bridge of 2022. We featured the I-74 Mississippi River Bridge earlier this year, and in January, we will examine the I-69 Finish Line in more depth.

Rehabilitation was another theme of this year’s awards. This isn’t a surprise. The combination of rising prices due to inflation, supply chain issues, and, of course, the framework of America’s existing infrastructure, makes road and bridge rehabilitation the way to go.

We will tackle this in more detail during the February issue. And, we will use some of the Top 10 winners as examples.

As we enter 2023, there are tough decisions to go around. Thanks to the bipartisan Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act (IIJA), some of them are good problems: which grants to apply for to get funds, which projects to choose, and who to hire to fill job vacancies?

Hopefully, in a couple years, our Top 10 Awards will be filled with IIJA-funded projects.

However, if (or when at this point) we hit a recession in 2023, those touch decisions might stop being so good: which project to put on the backburner because of a lack of money or materials, hiring issues, or which inexperienced worker to hire. 

I know I have been a broken record on the labor shortage, but it’s not going away. It’s a generational problem that’s plaguing the roads and bridge construction industry as a once in a generation law is being put into effect.

It’s going to shape 2023, 2024, and 2025, and if you’re not working to fix the situation, then you’re making it worse.

I used to know a high school teacher in suburban Pittsburgh who taught U.S. history through the lens of baseball. He was able to teach about World War II, Civil Rights, and the war on drugs (that chapter was titled the 1986 Mets).

American history can be taught through the lens of infrastructure just as easily as baseball. This year’s Top 10 lists give us a window into a country in transition, still trying to adjust to the 21st Century, a country with advanced technology, and the ability to replace a bridge in a weekend.

There will be challenges in 2023, but our Top 10 winners show us the best of what was possible in 2022. And the stories of these projects should give us all hope that we can overcome anything that stands in the way of improving our road and bridge infrastructure.

Congratulations to all the winners! Thank you again to all of those who submitted projects. Have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! 

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