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The AI Interview: Dennis Truax, President, American Society of Civil Engineers

ASCE President shares his thoughts on the future of infrastructure

American Infrastructure: For readers who don’t already know, what is the ASCE and its role in the industry? What is the history of the ASCE?

Dennis Truax: The American Society of Civil Engineers represents more than 150,000 members of the civil engineering profession in 177 countries. Founded in 1852, ASCE is the nation’s oldest engineering society. ASCE stands at the forefront of a profession that plans, designs, constructs and operates society’s economic and social engine – the built environment – while protecting and restoring the natural environment.

Through the expertise of its active membership, ASCE is a leading provider of technical and professional conferences and continuing education, the world’s largest publisher of civil engineering content and an authoritative source for codes and standards that protect the public.

The Society advances civil engineering technical specialties through nine dynamic specialty institutes, six technical divisions and numerous technical and policy committees. ASCE advocates for 21st Century solutions to sustainable infrastructure needs through its many professional- and public-focused programs and through engagement of its members in 94 sections, 162 branches, 119 younger member groups and 407 university student chapters.  

AI: With funding coming through from the IIJA, what are you looking forward to seeing in the coming years? What do you think the next ASCE infrastructure report card will look like?

DT: The IIJA represents a historic investment in the nation’s infrastructure and is a significant step to reduce our growing infrastructure gap. While we don’t like to speculate on future report card grades, the IIJA provides the down payment needed to revitalize our infrastructure and ensure that we are building for the future. We’re closely monitoring implementation of the IIJA and working to keep our members up-to-date on the latest guidance coming from the various government agencies that are disbursing the funding. 

As part of IIJA implementation, we are looking forward to seeing infrastructure projects undertaken and completed that are dedicated to maintaining and improving the nation’s existing critical infrastructure assets. We are engaged in ensuring that modern code and standards are used to ensure infrastructure is built for the future in a sustainable and cost-effective manner.  We also are working to guarantee the access of rural and disadvantaged communities to competitive grant programs across all infrastructure sectors.

We believe it’s important to dedicate resources to growing the skilled workforce pipeline and ensure that our country has the highly technical workforce that is necessary to plan, build, design and maintain this nation’s infrastructure.

Furthermore, enhancing research and innovation opportunities are something we are looking forward to seeing. Such opportunities will hopefully result in improved resilience, reduced life-cycle costs and enhanced sustainability of the 21st Century built environment.

Finally, we are supportive of efforts to streamline the construction contracting process so that projects are not delayed due to prolonged contract negotiations.  

“As part of IIJA implementation, we are looking forward to seeing infrastructure projects undertaken and completed that are dedicated to maintaining and improving the nation’s existing critical infrastructure assets.”

AI: What are some goals the ASCE is looking to achieve in 2022?

DT: 

  • Passage of the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 – While the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IJA) did provide additional funding for the nation’s ports, inland waterways and dams, Congress must still pass a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) bill to reauthorize critical programs like the National Dam Safety Program and the National Levee Safety Program, as well as authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Civil Works activities.
  • The inclusion of the Twenty-First Century Dams Act (S. 2356/H.R. 4375) in WRDA 2022 – the Act reauthorizes the National Dam Safety Program (NDSP) through Fiscal Year 2027 and ensures critical dam safety programs like the High Hazard Potential Dam Rehabilitation (HHPDR) Grant Program can provide states and communities with the resources they need to ensure the safety of the nation’s more than 90,000 dams. 
  • Reauthorization of the National Levee Safety Program – this program currently expires at the end of Fiscal Year 2023. The National Levee Safety Program is critical to promote consistent safety standards, create levee safety guidelines and provide funding assistance to states and regional districts for establishing participating levee safety programs.
  • Continued Development of and Investment in Resilient Infrastructure – ASCE supports initiatives that increase resilience of infrastructure against man-made and natural hazards. The 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure recommended advancements in resilience across all infrastructure categories as key to raising the grades. ASCE was encouraged by the $50 billion in resilience investments included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). 

While the resilience investments that are integral to the IIJA are a critical first step in making sure we are building back better, ASCE has several other priorities we are working to accomplish in 2022.  These include: passage of the PRECIP Act, reauthorization of the National Windstorm Impact Reduction Program and passage of the Disaster Resiliency Planning Act (S. 3510).  

AI: Does the ASCE have any important stormwater/wastewater initiatives?

DT: ASCE, through its Environmental & Water Resources Institute (EWRI), provides public policy input to governmental decision-makers through its involvement with the ASCE Energy, Environment and Water Policy Committee, which develops and maintains ASCE policies related to the areas of energy, environment and water.

We advocate for the use of asset management in stormwater and wastewater, as well as all sectors of infrastructure, to improve efficiency, reduce long-term costs, and prevent failures. 

ASCE supports asset management approaches to stormwater utilities that include optimizing life-cycle costs, enhanced inspection and operations, and preventative maintenance. 

ASCE’s 2021 Infrastructure Report Card outlines recommendations for how to improve stormwater and wastewater in the U.S.  These include developing a stormwater-specific funding and financing program and expanding the inclusion of current and forecasted climate variability in codes and standards for the design, operation, maintenance and expansion of stormwater infrastructure. 

We support addressing pollution management through a watershed approach that encourages regional coordination to improve impacts from stormwater-induced flooding. ASCE promotes collaboration between researchers, engineers, technologists, wastewater facility owners operators and federal decision-makers to develop and quickly deploy regulations, systems, public safety education and policies that address joint concerns.  

We also feel that expanding the EPA’s Water Infrastructure and Finance Innovation Act (WIFIA) with additional long-term, low-cost funding mechanisms for regionally and nationally significant, large-dollar-value projects is needed. Ultimately, we are working to encourage utilities to ensure their rates cover the full cost of service including operations, maintenance and capital needs and clearly communicate any rate increases to the public.

AI: As stated in the 2021 ASCE report card, 43% of roads in the U.S. are in poor or mediocre condition, is there an “easy” solution to this problem?

DT: There is no “easy” solution to improving conditions but implementing asset management practices to best prioritize when to fix certain components of our roadways will make repairs more efficient and affordable long-term. ASCE believes in a “fix it first” approach rather than prioritizing new projects, and this approach is being employed by the USDOT and many state DOTs.

AI: What are some educational resources the ASCE provides?

DT: ASCE offers its members, as well as non-members, a wealth of robust continuing educational offerings, countless valuable events throughout the year, eLearning options and more. To search our comprehensive library of education opportunities and search by technical area, topic or product, please visit https://www.asce.org/education-and-events/explore-education

AI: Are there any additional comments/details/quotes you’d like to mention?

ASCE is extremely concerned right now about recently introduced legislation at both the federal and state levels to suspend collection of gas taxes. The one or two dollars per week a typical motorist would save does not offset the hundreds of dollars they will once the transportation infrastructure is repaired and upgraded.  Now is the time to build on the momentum of the IIJA and, for the first time in decades, take significant steps to revitalize our aging transportation infrastructure, improve public safety and create well paying jobs. 

Any legislation suspending gas tax collection is a major step backward. We have created a page on our website to learn more about why such policies are misguided and won’t achieve the intended outcomes. Please visit https://infrastructurereportcard.org/gas-tax-holidays-get-the-facts/ to learn more.

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