Orange County Branch Newsletter

June 2008

Secretary's Column

PE: Political Engineering

By Ziad Y. Mazboudi, PE


When a civil engineer goes to college and is taught how to design a structure or provide a solution to a deficient situation, he is provided with a set of tools, engineering formulas, design guidelines and thousands of years of collected knowledge.  One thing that is not provided to the young engineer is how to deal with politics and politicians.  The engineer is faced regularly with a factor that sometimes can modify all of what we are taught in college and how we design.  I call it Political Engineering.  I recently had to deal with a bridge that I was assigned to oversee its design and construction.  The bridge was supposed to be widened from 2 to 4 lanes.  Traffic numbers required the widening and any civil engineer would provide the widening of the bridge as a solution to improve the Level of Service (LOS).  But nearby residents did not want a wider bridge and were fine with traffic backup, so the bridge project did not take place.  Local politics won and engineering logic did not.  Another example is the 241 Toll Road extension.  Traffic backups on the 5 freeway is becoming really bad, drivers are stuck in traffic, air quality is getting worse and with more and more people on the road things are only expected to get worse.  A senator from San Diego supported by one of our own Orange County senators pulled a political trick in a hope to kill a project that civil engineering logic would say is needed.     When we visited Sacramento on our legislative day, we met with various politicians, Republicans and Democrats.  We discussed the need for improving and maintaining our California infrastructures or suffer some serious consequences.  They all acknowledged the severity of the situation, but they all pointed fingers to the other party, and told us how the system is bogged down along party lines.  The civil engineers could not understand how could these politicians be so blinded by party loyalty and not look for their State’s common interest.  We discussed the need to invest in fixing the delta levees or have all of Californians, Republicans and Democrats suffer.  Oh yes, they knew that this is a serious issue, but time is going by and this is still being debated on the floor of the Capitol.  Billions of dollars in bonds were voted by the public to be spent on infrastructures but politicians still debate how to spend it.  Sometimes, I think that may be because we do not have many civil engineers on committees or running for office, who could understand more these issues and use their technical judgment instead of a political opinion to make decisions or vote.  May be I am too naïve, and may be one of the realities of being a politician is not to do what is good for the majority but what the loud minority dictates or what lobbyists with special interest push for.  But, I am a civil engineer and not a politician, and I just need to learn to find a way to work with or around some of the politics to achieve the common good and to protect the health and safety of the public and to provide the best civil engineering design no matter what politics dictate or what choice is selected.  So, young engineers, listen up. You should be aware of political influences and how they can affect your design or your project.  Always provide the most professional judgment and opinion, and let the politicians do what they do and hopefully collectively we end up with a better world.

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