As the American infrastructure ages and deteriorates, and as the country comes close to a $1 trillion infrastructure investment gap by 2022, there is a greater need for an understanding of current trends in civil engineering. This article aims for civil engineer Reddy Kancharla to define some of those trends and briefly discuss their impact on society.
A large percentage of the United States population still resides in the Midwest, where infrastructure is aging faster than in other parts. A major reason for this is that most counties cannot pay for their road maintenance, meaning they are left to deteriorate over time. In addition, although many states have given their responsibility of road maintenance to counties, there are still unincorporated roads within counties, which are often in poor condition.
A new trend involves the use of prefabricated walls and EPS sheets to build retaining walls. These methods can reduce construction time by 50 percent compared with regular forms of construction. More importantly, these prefabricated wall systems allow for more complicated shapes than what was previously possible. Prefabricated wall systems are not limited to retaining walls but can also be used for any situation where a concrete wall must be built.
An integral part of understanding current trends in civil engineering has to do with the increasing importance of environmentalism. To protect the environment, engineers have been finding ways that they can use nature to their advantage. One of these trends is the growing popularity of green roofs. Green roofs serve the same purposes as traditional roofs, such as protection from environmental elements and weatherproofing. But in addition to this function, they also provide many other benefits such as improving air quality, slowing down stormwater runoff, and even lowering building temperatures. Green roofs have grown in popularity to the point that they are being used for more than just roofs, such as being incorporated into façades and even being implemented in entire buildings.
Another trend affecting civil engineering involves electronic waste, which is commonly known as e-waste. E-waste is a growing problem because it contains many toxic materials that can harm the environment and living organisms. Although e-waste is a global problem, it particularly affects developing countries because they lack the resources needed to handle it properly. As a result, as much as 75 percent of all e-waste ends up in landfills or incinerators.
One way engineers are combating this issue is by finding ways to reuse e-waste. Instead of leaving old electronics in landfills, it is possible to create new products out of old electronic components. For example, one company has found a way to reuse plastic from old computers by transforming them into insulation material. So the next beehive you see may have been constructed using recycled materials from a computer.
Another trend is the change in attitude surrounding infrastructure projects. For example, although it has been widely accepted that many roads need to be improved, new ideas are being brought forward on paying for them. One idea involves the formation of public-private partnerships (PPPs), where government agencies partner with private companies to develop and operate bridge projects and other transportation infrastructure. This form of funding will make it easier to finance and maintain projects and pay back investors. Another trend is the increased use of social media. For example, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has been using Facebook and Twitter to engage users with current infrastructure problems such as weather-related highway closures, road construction, and traffic accidents. Not only does this help them communicate with the public, but it also allows IDOT to become more interactive with its followers.