Early June 11, news came out of Philadelphia that a tractor trailer hauling gasoline had flipped off an off-ramp and caught fire, collapsing part of I-95, the East Coast’s main north/south highway. A stretch of 95 spanning about nine miles was closed, creating what many assumed would be a traffic nightmare spanning many months as the highway was repaired and rebuilt. Fast forward to just 12 days later, when a firetruck carrying the mascots from Philadelphia’s sports teams zipped across that same stretch of 95, which reopened in record time.
The partial closure of 95 was nothing short of a national emergency. The highway runs from Miami to the Maine/Canada border crossing and is the principal link between all the major cities on the Eastern Seaboard. With truckers forced to find alternative routes, the potential impact to the economy was significant.
That’s where engineers came in, developing and executing a plan – safely and in record time. This is what our industry does. The I-95 project was a triumph of technology and teamwork. As Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro noted at the reopening ceremony, “We show that when we work together, we can get s--- done here in Pennsylvania.” That sentiment echoes the message of our Roadshows: big things are possible.
As engineers and construction crews were working on their plan to rebuild I-95, we held our Engineering Excellence Awards Gala where we honored breakthrough examples of engineering success. The winning projects embodied the spirit of the work being done in Philadelphia at the time. Among the projects we honored were bridge projects that went up in a weekend, and design work that applied innovative solutions to significant seismic and other natural challenges to protect the public.
In some ways, engineers operate in a similar space as doctors and surgeons. While the surgeon operates on the living “infrastructure” that keeps us alive, the engineer designs the transportation, water, energy, and related infrastructure that maintains our modern quality of life. Like a doctor, an engineer must mitigate risk through hard science, continual education, and earned experience.
Managing risk is a challenge common to both professions. For our industry, a key priority for ACEC is advancing the work across the federation to limit indemnification and duty to defend language in engineering contracts. I invite you to learn more about our efforts by watching our videos on these issues and review other risk management resources on our new website.
As an industry, we understand risk and we work tirelessly to manage and mitigate it. The work of engineering requires design solutions to the most difficult of challenges in the built environment. We meet the unknown and surmount it – with safety top of mind. That’s our value to our clients and to society at large, and we must remain focused and united in advancing policies that protect the industry’s ability to create and innovate. Without it, we wouldn’t have the success story that is the I-95 rebuild.