Trillion Dollar Baby

Rescuing America’s infrastructure

In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. From aviation to wastewater, the nation is getting lousy marks, pulling down an overall grade of D, which reflects as a dismal 1.0 GPA.

Responding to the entrenched nationwide crisis, Dakota County Technical College, in partnership with Hennepin Technical College, created and launched a new Civil Engineering Technology program, which will begin fall semester 2009 at the DCTC Apple Valley site in the Partners in Higher Education building in Apple Valley, Minn. Classes will begin at the Hennepin Tech campus in Eden Prairie, Minn., in fall semester 2010.

Graduates of the program will be ideally positioned to land jobs with companies and corporations poised to take advantage of the infrastructure boom mounting on the national horizon. Civil techs with a two-year degree will also be in top demand internationally.

Infrastructure is generally defined as the technical structures or physical networks that sustain human society. When civil engineers talk about infrastructure, they usually think of fixed assets such as highways, dams, seaports, railways and airports. Civil defense planners pore over public services such as schools, hospitals, firefighting and law enforcement.

The ASCE observes that a five-year investment in replacing, repairing and modernizing U.S. infrastructure would require $2.2 trillion in funding. Bridges and roads alone are looking at a $930 billion price tag with experts estimating that only $380.5 billion will be available. Drinking water, which earned a D–, requires a $255 billion investment with a projected shortfall topping $108 billion.

According to the ASCE, Minnesota hosts three chief infrastructure headaches: roads, bridges and mass transit. With vehicular traffic increasing nearly 50 percent since 1997, 32 percent of the state’s major roads are in “poor or mediocre condition” with 76 percent of its major urban highways clogged by congestion. A full 13 percent of the state’s bridges are “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.”

Even though decades of neglect have lodged the country in an undeniably grim situation, help is already on the way. Moving ahead with the largest single investment in the nation’s infrastructure since the building of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contains $150 billion in funding that targets public transportation systems, high-speed rail, the national electricity grid, renewable energy, national broadband coverage, energy-efficient housing, government facilities and more.

Operating in a climate of dire economic stress, the Obama administration has focused stimulus funds on “shovel ready” projects that will put people back to work as soon as possible. Minnesota is looking at more than $500 million in capital that will used for transportation enhancements in urban, suburban and rural areas. State officials have 120 days to assign the funds to specific projects, which will help preclude delays caused by bureaucratic meandering.

DCTC Civil Engineering Technology Instructor Tim Gillette, an industry-tested civil engineer, noted that the new CET program will give graduates the deep skill set needed to hit the road rolling in a grudging economy.

“Our grads will be equipped with the know-how and confidence to be immediate assets to their employers,” he said. “They will find great-paying jobs with engineering consulting firms, municipalities, multinational construction companies and government entities at the state and federal level.”

Based on his knowledge of the industry, Gillette predicts that technicians will be the first civil engineering experts called back when the impending infrastructure surge gets underway. “When construction firms and government agencies start to ramp up, civil techs will be needed quickly at the computer and in the field,” he said. “Starting your degree now will get you in on the ground floor.”

Getting trained civil techs into the workplace dovetails smoothly into the Five Key Solutions the ASCE has formulated to take on the emergency and raise America’s infrastructural GPA:

  1. Increase federal leadership
  2. Promote sustainability
  3. Develop plans at all levels of government
  4. Address life-cycle costs and maintenance
  5. Improve investments from all stakeholders

The future is already brighter thanks to the new wave of public awareness produced by the massive influx of federal funding. The civil engineering techs graduating from the DCTC/HTC CET program will be ready to help bring America’s infrastructure from the brink of failure into the realm of the A student—allowing our technical structures and physical networks to at last earn a 3.5 GPA or higher.

Civil Engineering Technology

The CET program incorporates state-of-the-art labs and top-drawer Leica survey equipment along with AutoCAD Civil 3D, the gold standard in civil engineering software. A must-have tool in the civil tech toolbox, Civil 3D gives civil engineering teams the ability to run down prospective scenarios earlier in the design process, streamlining workflow and maximizing efficiency on land development, environmental and transportation projects.

The program is laptop-based, meaning that students will need to supply their own laptop computers with MIcrosoft Office 2007 for coursework.

Working in a diverse field with excellent employment opportunities nationwide, graduates will be involved in all aspects of management and inspection during the construction process, including the planning and design of buildings, bridges, highways, subdivisions, and commercial and industrial facilities.

For more info on the CET program contact:

Thanks to a National Science Foundation S-STEM grant, DCTC is offering 15 $8,000 scholarships a year over the course of four years to eligible students enrolling or already enrolled in the college’s Nanoscience Technology, Civil Engineering Technology, Networking Administration, Information Systems Management and Software Development programs.

For more information on ASSETS scholarships, please contact: