I recently returned from a pair of meetings on the East Coast—ITS America’s Annual Meeting and the International Bridge Conference.
Both conferences were rich in information-sharing as well as the presentation of recent successes and open, earnest discussion of ongoing struggles.
It is this latter point—ongoing struggles—that, in some respects, has helped gauge this issue of Roads & Bridges. In addition to the continuation of our Region Report series and the revelation of this year’s Contractor’s Choice Awards, we have features that touch upon successful project completion in the face of tough public and private interest challenges (“Getting Through the Gateway”), a new means of employing technology to evaluate the feasibility and quality of asphalt binder (“Fingerprinting Asphalt”), and finally—the topic that is ever-present in every action and aspect of road and bridge work—safety, in this case the practical application of rural road safety research and how benefits can be measured and realized by paying attention to the needs of those whom your agency serves (“A Worthy Risk”).
Facing down challenges and finding new and dynamic ways to improve operations and applications is, as I see it, only going to become a more strenuous aspect of road and bridge work now that it is abundantly clear there will be no further funding measures or sustainable support for our industry at the federal level this year or likely in the next. (Presidential campaigns tend to have that funny little quirk in thriving on promises, while progress, which previous promises are meant to produce, takes a seat in the back of the bus.) Added to which, according to a June report from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), our industry is growing, despite what many see as persistent workforce growth and retention challenges.
According to the report’s data, highway and bridge construction employment has risen 6.8% since April 2018, an increase of more than 22,000 jobs; of that, more 20,000 are labeled “production workers.” You know, the folks out there, on the ground, getting the job done.
We are growing, and it’s a good thing since our roads and bridges aren’t degrading any slower. In the issues of Roads & Bridges to come, we will be offering more wide-net looks at our industry—its successes as well as attempts to face down its challenges. In August, look for tales of joint venture success and the results from a skewed bridge design on an urban megaproject, among other stories. In September, in addition to our Winter Maintenance annual, we will look at the skills gap that agencies are facing, along with concrete curing modifications, and a successful hydrodemolition and bridge rehab.
Finally, October and November bring our annual Top 10 Roads and Top 10 Bridges, respectively. This year, each issue will be entirely devoted to these awards, with longer and more in-depth coverage of the chosen projects. Nominations are now open, and I encourage you, if you have a worthy project, to submit as soon as you can; you can do so here: www.roadsbridges.com/awards.
Our industry is seeing gains. The work is out there. Send us your very best.