Celebrating 'Built to Last' – Which Actually Demands a Lot of Maintenance

June 1, 2012

ASCE's Charles Ellis plaque at base of Golden Gate BridgeIf you caught any of the cheap cialis 20mg news coverage of the Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th anniversary celebrations last week, I hope you felt some pride and excitement. Pride, even if you had nothing directly to do with the bridge and yes – deservedly so! As one of the greatest monuments to civil engineering, the Golden Gate is a reflection of the heights we have achieved, and still can when given the resources.

As ASCE president, I was honored to represent you in those celebrations. I joined in correcting a 75-year-old oversight – the dedication of a plaque at the bridge in honor of Charles Ellis, the structural engineer who was the bridge’s design engineer, but not credited at the time of the bridge’s opening in 1937.

At celebrations of major anniversaries for infrastructure such as the Golden Gate Bridge and the Hoover Dam, you’ll often hear that such structures were “built to last.” This always implies that we don’t build to last today. How would you answer that charge?

What’s also frustrating about the popular idea of “built to last” is how it overlooks the vital, absolutely critical role played by ongoing maintenance. “Built to last” does not mean build it and it can be left alone, without the need for maintenance and inspection. Keeping the Golden Gate looking (and functioning) great in its distinct “international orange” color takes a crew of 28 painters, five painter laborers, a chief bridge painter, 13 ironworkers and three pusher ironworkers, not to mention the inspectors, road crews, and many others.

Much of the infrastructure we rely on daily was “built to last,” but has not met that expectation; indeed some of it we have declared “functionally obsolete.” If we can’t afford to replace infrastructure, then spending on proper maintenance and repairs is more than essential – lives depend on it.

As we celebrate the milestones of our crowning achievements, what can we do to turn that into greater public awareness of the need to replace, or at least properly maintain, our crumbling achievements?

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1 Comment
  • In my 87th year I am researching historical highway, especially mountain pass, construction in the Cape Province of South Africa. It is quite surprising how often I have come across the statement in publications that “he was an outstanding engineer – he built projects to last”, or something similar. We have a number of backwoods passes which, for one or other reason, still operate with gravel surfaces. True, “he” was an outstanding engineer, but his major lasting contribution was the location of the road. The fact that it is still rideable and in public use is due to the people who have been responsible for its maintenance through the ages! And they, as you so rightly say, also deserve our appreciation!

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