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The Best Places for Civil Engineers 2020


ASCE's Civil Engineering magazine researched and wrote this feature article before the widespread outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequently declared pandemic in the United States. Since then, the health and safety of civil engineers and their families; the circumstances at engineering firm offices, public agencies, and jobsites; and the overall market for civil works projects have all entered an unprecedented phase of uncertainty. The core data on which ASCE's Best Places for Civil Engineers report was created-including salaries, job openings, and costs of living in each of these cities-were valid at the time. How these factors may change once the current crisis has passed remains to be seen. Civil Engineering will report on these and other developments as they unfold.

In September 2019 ASCE announced the results of its most recent civil engineering salary survey, which revealed that in the United States, civil engineers' median salaries rose by 6.2 percent between 2017 and 2018—significantly higher than the national average. The total median salary for a civil engineer in 2018 was $109,000, and the median base salary (excluding bonuses, overtime, and the like) was $105,900.

But as might be expected, the survey uncovered significant differences in salaries across regions of the United States. Those working in four specific divisions of the United States—as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau—earned higher median base salaries:

  • the South Atlantic, which includes Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia ($107,000)
  • the East South Central, which includes Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee ($108,090)
  • the West South Central, which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas ($109,000)
  • the Pacific, which includes Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington State ($115,000)

Yet salary is only one factor civil engineers must consider when determining where to live and practice. Setting aside any personal reasons for choosing a specific location, other factors include cost of living and job availability. So ASCE has combined these elements—average salary, cost of living, and open jobs for civil engineers—into one useful index: the ASCE Best Places for Civil Engineers 2020.

ASCE began by assigning an index score of 100 to the average civil engineering salary from the 47 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) from which the most responses to its salary survey were received; this figure is $122,106. Salaries from each individual MSA were then assigned a score compared to that base score. The Houston MSA, for example, was given a salary score of 120.8 because the average compensation for civil engineers there is 120.8 percent of the index score. (See the chart.)

Cost-of-living data were provided by the Council for Community and Economic Research (C2ER), based in Arlington, Virginia. C2ER calculated a composite index by examining data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Expenditure Survey, homing in on six common expenditure categories: groceries, housing, health care, transportation, utilities, and miscellaneous. Those assigned a lower index number were deemed to have a lower cost of living.

Yet neither salaries nor costs matter much if civil engineers can't find work. So, the next factor to be examined was job availability. This was determined by Naylor Association Solutions, a company headquartered in McLean, Virginia, that provides consulting services to professional associations and membership societies. Naylor examined the number of civil engineering jobs available over the course of the 12 months preceding June 14, 2019. A larger number of open civil engineering positions earned a higher score.

The ASCE Best Places for Civil Engineers 2020 were determined by adding the salary score to the job availability score, then subtracting the cost of living score. The top 10 are listed above.

What follows is an in-depth look at what makes the top three of these cities—Houston, Los Angeles, and Denver—especially attractive for civil engineers and a snapshot of the initiatives driving growth in the profession in the remaining seven.

1. Houston

Leading the list of Best Places for Civil Engineers 2020, the city of Houston features multiple critical factors that make it such an attractive and civil engineer-friendly location. In addition to the booming public and private job sectors and the (mostly) pleasant climate, Houston provides civil engineers with the top spot on the salary survey index and strong showings in the cost-of-living and civil-engineering-jobs categories.

The growing population is one of the most important factors. From 2010 to 2018, according to U.S. Census data, the Houston region gained more than 1 million residents—an increase of more than 18 percent—and is expected to reach a total population of 8.4 million by 2030. The city has also proved popular for businesses, adding nearly 18 million sq ft of office space between 2013 and 2017 alone. In fact, for Houston, there is quite literally no limit to its potential growth.

"Some places, you run into a river or a mountain range or something that limits your geography," notes Carol Ellinger Haddock, P.E., M.ASCE, the director of Houston Public Works. But the topography around Houston is generally flat, which means that "for good and bad, the Houston region doesn't have such an edge, so it can keep on expanding," Haddock explains.

Haddock's agency is responsible for the operation and maintenance of Houston's streets and drainage, production and distribution of water, collection and treatment of wastewater, and permitting and regulation of public and private construction. As an engineer in Houston since the early 1990s, she has seen a public sector market for civil engineers that has gone up and down somewhat but mostly held steady over the decades. The private sector demand for engineers in Houston has fluctuated more, Haddock adds, but it is a key driver of the city's economy—and, consequently, its demand for civil engineers. For Houston, that private sector has historically been dominated by the oil and gas industry but more recently the medical industry has also become a key player in the region's growth.

Combined, the various private and public sectors are "very much intertwined" in attracting more people—engineers and others—to Houston. And that "directly impacts the need for more infrastructure," Haddock says. It's cyclical, she explains: "As more people move in, there's more demand for infrastructure, you need more roads, more water, more things to serve the additional areas where people are moving."

The same flatness that helps Houston keep expanding also makes it more vulnerable to flooding, especially during major storms such as 2017's Hurricane Harvey, notes Julia P. Clarke, P.E., M.ASCE, a senior geotechnical manager at Raba-Kistner Consultants Inc., and the 2019-2020 president of ASCE's Houston branch. In 2018, voters in surrounding Harris County responded to Harvey's high waters by passing what has been called the "Harvey Bond," Clarke notes. That's a $2.5-billion measure designed to help the region defend itself against future flooding via widening and dredging the bayous, creeks, and other channels that pass through the city; constructing new detention ponds; and even purchasing buildings that were originally constructed within floodplains.

As part of a $1-billion project, Port Houston is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and various consultants to widen and deepen the Houston Ship Channel—considered one of the nation's busiest waterways—to accommodate larger vessels. Because the existing bridge across the ship channel was not designed to withstand impacts from vessels of the size that will eventually access the port, a new cable-stayed suspension bridge is being constructed to span the channel, says Clarke, who in a previous position was a deputy geotechnical engineer on the bridge program. Expected to cost close to $1 billion, the new bridge will feature separate northbound and southbound spans, main sections that are 1,320 ft in length, and foundations constructed outside of the waterway. There will be four toll lanes—double the existing capacity—and full shoulders in each direction. The project is part of an overall widening of the region's Sam Houston Tollway by the Harris County Toll Road Authority.

Although Houston has long used groundwater as the primary source of its drinking water, subsidence has become a problem in the region, which is leading to an effort to rely on surface sources for at least 60 percent of its potable water by 2025 and 80 percent by 2035. To meet those goals, engineers are designing and constructing several massive infrastructure projects—including a new three-level intake and twin 108 in. diameter pipes at Lake Houston to transfer raw water to the city's Northeast Water Purification Plant. That facility will be expanded to more than triple its current output, adding an anticipated 320 mgd. Approximately 35 mi of new cathodically protected, welded-steel pipelines, ranging in size from 84 to 96 in. in diameter, and two new pump stations will carry the treated water to Houston's regional water authorities.

To ensure that surface water levels remain high in Lake Houston, the Luce Bayou Interbasin Transfer project will carry water to the lake from the Trinity River via a new canal paralleling the bayou, notes Haddock. Although other conveyances exist to take water out of Lake Houston, "this is the first new canal that's going to put water into" that source, Haddock adds.

In coming years, Houston civil engineers will also have multiple road projects to work on—including the potentially $7-billion North Highway Improvement project that will reroute portions of Interstate 45 and a series of new toll roads that cumulatively will cost more than $1.5 billion. Transportation engineers and planners have been busy redesigning the city's bus transit network, notes Haddock, with future phases likely to explore bus-only lanes and other infrastructure improvements. On other transportation fronts, there is even a proposed $20-billion bullet train project to link Houston and Dallas.

For civil engineers who want to advance in their careers, "Houston is the place to be at this point," says Clarke.

2. Los Angeles

In Los Angeles—the second city on ASCE's list of the Best Places for Civil Engineers 2020—the size and scope of civil engineering projects can seem as dramatic as any movie or television show filmed within Hollywood's hometown. There are, for example, plans for a $9-billion rail line extension; a nearly $5-billion, 30-year program to design, build, and operate an automated people mover system at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX); $1.9 billion worth of freeway improvements; and a 30-year, $1.4-billion improvement program for, of all things, sidewalks!

Civil engineering work in Los Angeles can be so out-of-scale with other localities that a $500-million project is considered "small" there, whereas such a budget elsewhere might be a region's "whole capital program for the next ten years," notes Cris B. Liban, D.Env, P.E., ENV SP, F.ASCE, the chief sustainability officer of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Known as L.A. Metro, the organization is a countywide entity covering the city of Los Angeles and 87 other cities and special jurisdictions in the region.

In addition to the enormity of its civil engineering projects, Los Angeles also offers engineers the chance to work on "transformational" projects that promote greater sustainability and try to improve the lives of some of the city's most vulnerable residents, explains Gary Lee Moore, P.E., ENV SP, M.ASCE, the city engineer in Los Angeles's Bureau of Engineering. For example, Moore points to a series of sustainability-focused projects that are revitalizing areas around the Los Angeles River, a concrete-encased waterway that historically served primarily as a flood-control system. But the city's growing population and density—Los Angeles is expected to reach 14.5 million residents by 2030—have led a drive to develop more open spaces, Moore says. This includes creating new parks, bikeways, pedestrian bridges, and other amenities along the L.A. River. In particular, the Taylor Yard G2 River Park Project involves a 42-acre former railroad facility—and brownfield—that is part of a plan to help restore the ecosystems along an 11 mi corridor of the river from Griffith Park to downtown Los Angeles, according to the Bureau of Engineering.

Albion Riverside Park is another former brownfield along the river, and it now features soccer fields, a running track, and a playground for children—along with stormwater infiltration facilities. "We've taken an eyesore and transformed it into a park in a neighborhood that needed more open space and recreational opportunities," Moore explains.

Noting that "sustainability is at the front and center of [the bureau's] strategic plan," Moore describes these efforts as "very exciting transformational projects for civil engineers to work on—not just traditional infrastructure projects, but projects that go beyond the imagination."

Another nontraditional project is the city's "A Bridge Home" effort, which is creating temporary housing centers to help move Los Angeles's growing number of homeless residents "off the street and into housing," Moore says. Generally constructed on empty lots, many of these shelters feature tension membrane structures for sleeping quarters; trailers with showers, restrooms, and laundry facilities; spaces for counseling services; and even areas to help homeless people care for their pets. Six such temporary centers have already been completed, providing more than 600 beds, Moore says. Over the next six months or so at least another seven facilities will be completed.

Although the Bridge Home program is probably "something none of us thought about when we went to [engineering] school," Moore says that "there could be nothing more important than what we're currently doing."

New civil engineers in Moore's bureau—he hires between 30 and 40 a year—get other opportunities to try out new approaches to their jobs via a formal rotation program that lets them experience three different aspects of engineering over their first three years of employment. Moore started the program about a decade ago. It lets new engineers spend time in three of four departments within the bureau: design, construction, program management, and development services.

The rotation program "gives engineers an excellent opportunity to take theory and turn it into practice," Moore explains. "People who never thought they wanted to do construction management fall in love with it. Those who thought they'd only want to do design love project management-and vice versa!"

"Being an engineer here forces one to get out of the typical engineer mold," adds Liban, who stresses that engineers in the region can move beyond technical expertise and take on greater responsibilities in social, business, and even political activities. "The city is rich in opportunities for leadership roles," he stresses.

At the same time, the volume of civil engineering work in Los Angeles can sometimes make it difficult for Liban to find all the engineers he needs for L.A. Metro projects. The sprawling size of the city itself, and its notoriously bad traffic, can also create problems. Some work sites can seem less desirable to potential employees because of long commutes, while other projects can have 20 or more engineers apply for each opening, Liban says.

Mentoring and investments in training programs are important aspects of civil engineering careers in the Bureau of Engineering and L.A. Metro. The promotion of diversity is also critical, says Moore, who notes that over the past four years some 40 percent of new engineers hired by the bureau were women.

Among the many major civil engineering projects recently completed or under way in Los Angeles is the Terminal Island Water Reclamation Plant's Advanced Water Purification Facility expansion, which doubled the existing site's capacity to produce 12 mgd of recycled water, providing a vital and reliabile local water source.

Crossing the L.A. River will be the 3,500 ft long, nearly $500-million replacement of the Sixth Street Viaduct-an iconic structure that has appeared in multiple movies and other productions. The new bridge—dubbed "Ribbon of Light"—will feature 10 sets of illuminated arches as well as bike lanes and expanded pedestrian paths. There will also be a 12-acre park beneath the viaduct.

At LAX, the Landside Access Modernization Program includes the 2.25 mi long elevated automated people mover (APM), an electric train that will carry an expected 30 million passengers a year between the system's six stations. The APM will also provide easy access to L.A. Metro's new 96th Street station, which is linked to the $2-billion Crenshaw/LAX Transit project.

Other key L.A. Metro efforts involve the 9 mi long, roughly $9-billion Purple Line Extension Transit project, designed to provide high-speed rail service from downtown Los Angeles to the western side of the city.

While a 1980s pop song declared that "nobody walks in L.A.," the Bureau of Engineering is hard at work disproving that concept with the Safe Sidewalks L.A. project. Covering the city's 9,000 mi of sidewalks, in both public and private locations, the program is designed to bring all such walkways into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act by fixing missing or damaged curb ramps, replacing broken pavement, and removing other barriers to public access, Moore explains.

Now in their third year of a multidecade effort, the project's engineers are installing dozens of miles of new sidewalks annually and testing six alternate materials to help reduce the carbon footprint of sidewalk concrete mixes, Moore adds.

3. Denver

Denver rounds out the top trio of Best Places for Civil Engineers 2020, which seems appropriate, given that the Mile High City defines itself in engineering terms with that elevation-focused nickname. More specifically, the city's civil engineers have benefited from a sustained period of rapid growth in recent years and a political and financial commitment to "address the maintenance of our aging infrastructure," notes Adam Phipps, P.E., the deputy city engineer in Denver's Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Denver's local leaders and the city's voters have regularly proposed and passed large, general-obligation municipal bonds that "establish a funding mechanism to tackle the engineering challenges that come at us," says Phipps. The most recent example is 2017's Elevate Denver measure—a $937-million bond program that allows the city to address a wide range of "global" public infrastructure challenges over the next decade, rather than just tackling individual problems as they occur, Phipps explains.

Denver demonstrates a level of innovation and commitment to best industry practices that enable his department to "anticipate where the challenges are and put the engineering solutions in place now," Phipps notes. Through this approach, he says, "we want to solve tomorrow's problems with today's dollars."

Local support for infrastructure spending is essential in Denver because the State of Colorado imposes "unique funding challenges," including measures that lock in housing property taxes at relatively low rates and require voters to approve all statewide tax increases, notes Andi Barendt, P.E., M.ASCE, a project engineer at Ninyo & Moore, based in the Denver suburb of Greenwood Village. As a result, city infrastructure projects are frequently funded through public-private partnerships (PPPs), says Barendt, who currently serves as the president of ASCE's Denver branch. Major examples of PPP projects include the recently completed A Line extension of commuter rail to Denver International Airport and the ongoing Central 70 project, an effort by the Colorado Department of Transportation (DOT) and its industry partners to reconstruct a 10 mi stretch of I-70 in downtown Denver, Barendt says. The $1.2-billion Central 70 project will widen portions of the route, add express lanes in each direction, remove an aging viaduct, and, most significantly, lower a section of the highway into a tunnel and construct a 4-acre park on top of that lowered portion.

Phipps's agency was previously known as Denver Public Works, but the name was changed effective January 1 to Transportation and Infrastructure as part of larger changes to the city charter that enable his team to better address multimodal transportation networks, especially through transit and other mobility-related measures, he notes. For example, one of the projects being partially funded by the Elevate Denver bonds will establish bus rapid transit along Colfax Avenue, a major east-west corridor through Denver, to "create more equitable mobility solutions to move around the city," Phipps says.

Like other Best Places, the Denver region has seen its population grow—up more than 15 percent between 2010 and 2018 and expected to reach 3.6 million residents by 2030.

Major civil engineering efforts in Denver include the reconstruction of the 16th Street Mall, which Phipps describes as the "spine of our central business district." Renovations to the 1.2 mi long pedestrian, transit, and retail thoroughfare will include the replacement of the iconic granite pavers and repairs to the underlying utilities.

A soon-to-be-completed flood-protection effort—the Platte to Park Hill: Stormwater Systems project—features the construction of new stormwater pipes that feed a regional detention basin that was integrated into the city-owned Park Hill Golf Course, which is also being reconstructed. The detention area on the northeastern side of the course is designed to temporarily hold and slowly drain as much as 220 acre-ft of water from a 100-year flood event. Another portion of the overall project, the 39th Avenue Greenway and Open Channel, was designed to convey floodwaters to the South Platte River via a new outfall at the redesigned Globeville Landing Park.

Contaminated brownfield sites—especially those connected with Denver's history as a center of the radium processing industry—are being cleaned up around the city, some of them converted into recreational facilities, notes Barendt.

The River Mile project, planned for sites along the South Platte River in downtown Denver, will be a 15 million sq ft mixed-use development combining recreation, fisheries, flood protection, and stormwater management together with river restoration efforts and rainwater collection and retention facilities, among other benefits. Located adjacent to two transit stations, the project will also incorporate new bike and pedestrian paths, waterfront parks, and other public spaces and amenities. It will require the relocation of the existing Elitch Gardens amusement park, Barendt says.

Looking to the city's western heritage, another major civil engineering project is redeveloping the National Western Center, a cultural and agricultural site long associated with rodeos and livestock shows, says Phipps. The project will restore certain historical features of the venue while also creating more than 2.2 million sq ft of new indoor and outdoor spaces to host year-round events, including concerts, festivals, farmers' markets, sporting events, and trade shows and conventions. The goal is a "low-carbon, resilient campus with energy-efficient buildings that are powered by renewable energy, including thermal heat from a relocated sewer line," according to the project's website.

Sustainability is a key goal of both the city and county of Denver, which in 2016 launched an initiative called Ultra-Urban Green Infrastructure Guidelines . Focusing on "site-scale green infrastructure best management practices," the guidelines provide details on small, engineered structural solutions that mimic larger natural systems, using vegetation, soils, and roots to slow and filter stormwater runoff. These include various stormwater planters; green gutters and green alleys that feature bioretention systems and permeable surfaces; and other measures specifically selected for Denver's "dense, urban environment and in particular for use in the right-of-way and on private redevelopment and infill sites," according to the guidelines' website.

Describing Denver's green efforts as "one of our core values," Phipps explains that the city's civil engineers work to incorporate green components into every project they undertake. As a core value, he explains, "you don't just do it for one day—you integrate it into how you live."

On the blue side of civil engineering, Denver Water is expanding its Gross Reservoir, increasing the height of the existing dam by an additional 131 ft to accommodate an additional 77,000 acre-ft of storage capacity. Denver Water has also launched a pipe replacement program that aims to replace approximately 60,000 linear ft of drinking water pipe each year, according to the 2020 infrastructure report card created by ASCE's Colorado chapter. At that rate, the effort will keep the city's civil engineers hard at work for a considerable length of time. With 15.8 million linear ft of pipe, it will take "approximately 264 years to replace all underground assets" in Denver Water's network, the report card's authors concluded.

4. Washington, D.C.

The Washington, D.C., MSA includes large portions of Maryland and Virginia as well as one county in West Virginia. And of course, the driving force behind the capital region is the federal government; rarely do the wheels of the federal train stop turning.

But there is far more to the region's infrastructure plans than federal contracts. Its population of 6.25 million (as of 2018) grew significantly, by 10.9 percent, from 2010, and by 2030, the region is expected to be home to 7.3 million. With that growth will come increases in regional spending, especially on transportation and multifunctional development.

It helps that in 2019 Inc. announced it would locate all of its second headquarters complex, dubbed HQ2, in Northern Virginia, after previously considering splitting its footprint between the capital region and the New York City metropolitan area. The digital commerce giant will spend $2.5 billion to develop more than 6 million sq ft of office space and 50,000 sq ft of retail space in an area called National Landing, not far from the Pentagon. JBG Smith, the local developer for Amazon, also plans to reconstruct 2.6 million sq ft of space it owns nearby to take advantage of the 25,000 new high-tech workers it expects Amazon to deliver.

And it's not just the suburbs that are close to the capital that are growing. Thanks to the expansion of the Silver Line of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority's Metro subway, five stations have been added and six more are under construction to link Washington, D.C., with Dulles International Airport, located roughly 30 mi to the west. Once considered a distant suburb, Dulles and its surrounding areas have increasingly become bedroom communities for employment centers in the District as well as such Northern Virginia cities as Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax.

And there will be plenty of work for transportation engineers as the Virginia DOT strives to keep up. It will extend its tolled express lanes on Interstate 495, the Capital Beltway, by roughly 3 mi from where it meets the Dulles Toll Road to the American Legion Bridge, which continues northward into Maryland. At an estimated cost of $550 million, that project will dovetail with a project to widen that bridge, which currently creates significant backups for commuters heading into Maryland. The potentially $1-billion bridge replacement will be undertaken jointly with the Maryland DOT as part of a planned $9-billion traffic-relief plan in that state.

Maryland also is building a 16 mi long light-rail link, dubbed the Purple Line, which is expected to be completed by 2023. Delivered via a PPP, the $5.6-billion project will offer commuters a northern alternative to the overtaxed Beltway as well as links to Amtrak and other heavy-rail services.

Indeed, Washington, D.C., is hoping to be known less for its traffic nightmares and more for its environmental ambitions in the coming years. In 2013, the city launched a program called Sustainable D.C. that, according to the program's website, is intended "to make D.C. the healthiest, greenest, most livable city in the nation." (See In that quest, the city was the first to earn a platinum-level award in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for Cities program. After holding community outreach sessions with more than 4,000 residents to determine their priorities related to equity, climate, economy, education, and health, the District has launched a second version of its plan. This iteration promises, among other goals, to make buildings healthier and more energy- and water-efficient; increase the walkability and bikeability of its neighborhoods and employment centers; reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transportation; reuse or recycle half of all commercial construction waste; reduce stormwater runoff and dramatically improve the health of its waterways; and increase the use of renewable energy to make up half the District's energy supply by 2032.

5. Chicago

It's hard to think of Chicago, the nation's third-largest city with a population of 9.5 million, without thinking of its famous—or perhaps infamous—Chicago O'Hare International Airport, among the busiest in the nation. With almost 80 million passengers enplaned each year, the airport is a significant economic engine for the Windy City. In recognition of that fact, the Chicago Department of Aviation is taking a two-pronged approach, expanding and modernizing both O'Hare and Midway International Airport.

At O'Hare, two new satellite concourses, which will be twice as roomy as existing ones, will be built at a cost of $1.4 billion; they will accommodate the wide-body jets now in use by many airlines. And the Illinois Tollway is engaged in a 10-year, $3.4-billion project to improve access to the airport by building 17 mi of new toll roads and 15 new or improved interchanges. Work on parts of the project will continue until 2025. At Midway, security checkpoints and concessions will be expanded.

Chicago is also revamping its rail service. The Chicago Transit Authority is expanding and modernizing its Red and Purple Lines by rebuilding stations and track in a PPP. And the city has entered a first-of-its-kind partnership with the U.S. DOT, the State of Illinois, Cook County (in which Chicago is located), freight rail operators, Amtrak, and Metra—northeast Illinois's commuter rail system—to complete significant passenger and freight rail improvements. Funded in part with federal dollars as a "project of national significance," the project, called CREATE, will invest billions to reduce freight rail congestion, at-grade conflicts, and noise pollution and to promote public safety.

The city is also leading the way in combined sewer overflow management with the continuation of its Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP), one of the world's largest civil engineering projects. TARP is a system of deep, large-diameter tunnels and vast reservoirs designed to reduce flooding, improve water quality in local waterways, and protect Lake Michigan from pollution caused by sewer overflows. The system will have a capacity of 18.5 billion gal. when the second stage of the McCook Reservoir is completed in 2029.

6. New York City

In 2012 the New York City metropolitan region was rocked by Hurricane Sandy, which killed 43 city residents and inflicted an estimated $19 billion in damage, including flooded homes, streets, and subways across a 51 sq mi path. In its wake, the island city has taken a proactive approach to preventing the damaging effects of climate change—especially increases in severe storms and sea levels. The city is in the process of finalizing a $500-million, four-project plan to reinforce and protect the areas hardest hit by Sandy: Lower Manhattan, the financial district, and the seaport. This effort is part of a larger mission called the Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Plan, which will involve extending the shoreline to provide an in-water barrier and space on which to construct additional protection systems. (Read "New York's Battery Park Esplanade to Be Raised" on page 26 of this issue.)

The city that never sleeps is also the city that never stops innovating. Its ingenious transfiguration of an abandoned elevated rail line into a park and walking path, the High Line, sparked a trend that has spread across the country. And the recently opened cultural center known as the Shed set a new standard for dynamic buildings, combining the skills of structural and mechanical engineers. The Shed is just a small part of Hudson Yards, the largest private real-estate development project in U.S. history at roughly $25 billion, a project that is sure to still be in process for several years. Last month, Edge at Hudson Yards, said to be the highest outdoor observation deck in the western hemisphere and the fifth-highest one in the world, opened at a new tower there. The attraction extends 80 ft from the 100th floor at a height of 1,131 ft above the city streets.

Other mixed-use projects under way in the metro area include Riverton, a $2.5-billion, 5 million sq ft development on 400 acres along the Raritan River in New Jersey; the $1.3-billion Belmont Park redevelopment, which will include a new arena for the New York Islanders hockey team; and a more than $1-billion project by Google to establish a new campus on the West Side of Manhattan. Up next is a $13-billion effort to modernize John F. Kennedy International Airport by adding two terminals, one to the north and one to the south. The additions will cover a total of 4 million sq ft and process at least 15 million additional passengers.

7. Atlanta

Atlanta is on the move, its population of 5.9 million slated to grow by more than 20 percent to 7.1 million by 2030. In addition to serving as the headquarters for such successful companies as Delta Air Lines, United Parcel Service, and Home Depot, the city has recommitted itself in recent years to walkability, green space, and solutions to its notorious traffic woes.

A project sure to attract civil engineers who appreciate the outdoors is the Atlanta BeltLine, a $4.8-billion revitalization project that is said to be among the largest, most comprehensive urban redevelopment and mobility efforts now under way in the United States. Following the principles of sustainable development, the project will result in a network of public parks, multiuse trails, and transit options that extend along a repurposed, 22 mi route of historic railroad corridors that encircle downtown and extend into roughly 45 neighborhoods.

Other disused rail infrastructure is being converted as well. Roughly 50 acres of parking lots and yard space at Centennial Yards—near the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the Georgia World Congress Center, and the Georgia Aquarium (which is undergoing a massive expansion set to be completed later this year)—are being redeveloped. The estimated $5-billion project will offer retail, office, residential, and office space across 12 million sq ft.

To ease gridlock, the Georgia DOT has initiated a Major Mobility Investment Program aimed at adding highway capacity, improving freight movement, increasing efficiency, enhancing safety, and decreasing travel times along state roads. The estimated $11-billion program includes interchange upgrades, additional express lanes, interstate widening, trucking lanes, and bridge upgrades—and much of this program will be implemented in and around Atlanta. At the same time, the Atlanta Regional Commission Board has approved a 30-year, $173-billion plan to add new toll lanes on I-285 (known as the Perimeter) as well as high-capacity transit, including light-rail and bus rapid transit. The board is also launching initiatives to encourage carpooling, working from home, and other ways to reduce vehicular traffic during the work week.

8. Seattle

In 2018 Seattle was the second-fastest growing city in the nation for the second year in a row, with a population of 3.9 million that is set to reach 4.7 million by 2030. For civil engineers who prefer city life to suburban sprawl, it's notable that residential growth in the city is outpacing the suburbs three-to-one, according to the Seattle Times .

Clearly housing is a key issue in the city, with projects ranging from the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace, a 30-acre affordable housing project downtown, to Point Ruston, a waterfront resort-inspired village with panoramic views of the South Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, and Mount Rainier. Also under way are the Spring District—a $2.3-billion project in nearby Bellevue that features walkable streets, open spaces, and independent shops—and nine new skyscrapers downtown, which has no height limits.

With the completion of the State Route 99 Tunnel project—the largest double-deck vehicular tunnel in the nation—and the nearly complete demolition of its predecessor, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, space has been made for even more development. (See "Transformative Tunnel," Civil Engineering , December 2019, pages 50-59.) The city plans to rebuild its central waterfront property to include a park promenade and bike path, a new pedestrian bridge, and a boat landing. Construction is expected to continue through 2024. Nearby, a $900-million effort will make over the Seattle Center Arena to accommodate a National Hockey League expansion team.

Among the key transportation projects that can be counted on to generate civil engineering jobs in the next several years is the 16-year, $16-billion Connecting Washington project, funded primarily by an 11.9-cent statewide gas tax increase passed by legislators in 2015. Among its Seattle projects are improvements to the city's critical ferry system as well as several of its highways. Separately, highway and bridge improvements are under way on various parts of key interstates (5 and 405) as well busy state routes 520, 167, and 509. Mass transit will benefit from the Sound Transit 3 plan, which will expand the regional transit system throughout King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties. Plans to expand the Link light-rail system include a new Blue Line serving the Eastside region and Lynnwood and Northgate extensions.

And now that the city has reinforced its Elliott Bay Seawall to withstand strong earthquakes (see "Safer in Seattle," Civil Engineering , February 2018, pages 58-63 and 74), it is ready to revamp the multimodal terminal at Colman Dock to do the same.

9. Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Research Triangle)

Last year in Cary, North Carolina, a city within the Research Triangle, United Parcel Service tested its first drone package deliveries, of pharmaceuticals from the retail chain CVS. That kind of innovation is typical in the Triangle, which is bounded by three notable research universities—North Carolina State University, Duke University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. So, it's no surprise that the 5,500 sq mi region is experiencing significant growth—18.3 percent from 2010 to 2018—as technology development and use explodes globally. The region's population of 1.9 million is expected to swell to 2.5 million by 2030.

Among the industries driving this change are advanced, high-skill manufacturing; agriculture research and technologies; renewable energy and other so-called "cleantech;" software, hardware, and telecommunications; and medical and pharmaceutical sciences. In fact, the global pharmaceutical company Merck will spend $680 million to build a 225,000 sq ft facility in Durham by the end of 2023. There it will manufacture the active ingredient in its highly successful cervical cancer vaccine.

Given the region's sprawl, the completion of the outer loop of its beltway, I-540, is critical. Also known as the Complete 540 project and the Southeast Extension, the $2.2-billion undertaking began last year and is likely to be completed in segments over several years.

Other highway projects include widening Raleigh's I-440 from four lanes to six and replacing some of its bridges and interchanges, widening I-40 in southeast Raleigh and I-95 north of Fayetteville, and converting a stretch of U.S. Route 1 between I-540 in Raleigh and feeder roads in Wake Forest to a controlled-access road.

10. Dallas

By 2030, Some 3.5 million people will be living in Dallas County, the primary county in which the city is located. A positive climate for businesses, good schools, new housing, and "smart growth" are some of the drivers.

The Trust for Public Land is helping Dallas formulate a smart-growth strategy that aims to improve the environmental, social, and economic resilience of the city by creating more green spaces—especially parks and trails—using geographic information system (GIS) mapping tools. And several new housing and mixed-use developments are under way that will transform disused urban spaces. The Central, for example, is a 5 million sq ft office, residential, hospitality, and commercial development on a 30-acre site at the intersection of U.S. Highway 75 and Haskell Avenue on the north side of the city. Developers demolished an office tower to make room for the $2.5-billion project, which will include a 3.5-acre park at its center.

Also to the north, construction has begun on the redevelopment of a former Sears building and parking lot that had anchored the Valley View Mall, which closed in May 2019. The $1-billion, mixed-use complex, called Park Heritage, will offer offices, apartments, retail and restaurant space, and parks on a 2 million sq ft site. The city hopes to redevelop the entire dead mall site eventually.

To the northeast, on a peninsula in Lake Ray Hubbard, Sapphire Bay's Crystal Lagoons will be a 117-acre, $1-billion beach resort that includes a convention center, a hotel, a surfing pool, public trails, and a top-notch marina.

The first phase of the project is expected to be finished in late 2023, to coincide with the completion of the Texas DOT's improvements to I-30, the highway that crosses the lake.

In addition to that roadway project and many others, Dallas is making great strides in mass transit. Within the past several years the city has constructed two lines that connect the city directly to the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). These are an extension of the Orange Line of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light-rail system and Trinity Metro's TEXRail commuter rail line. DART's plan for 2030 includes an expansion of its Silver Line along a route to the north that it calls the Cotton Belt, which will connect Plano to the east and Grapevine and DFW to the west, with stops in Dallas.

The airport is one of the busiest in the country and a driver for the region's economy. Located northwest of the city, it brings in nearly 64 million passengers a year. To keep up with demand, DFW and American Airlines have announced plans to develop a sixth terminal, Terminal F, and to improve Terminal C. The project will include an investment of $3 to $3.5 billion and is expected to open by 2025.

No list of the best places to live and work can ever be exhaustive or definitive; every city has its unique culture, amenities, environment, and ethos. Also ranked among the top 20 in ASCE's analysis were Phoenix; Philadelphia; the Kansas City metropolitan areas in Missouri and Kansas; Minneapolis; Austin and San Marcos, Texas; Orlando, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Tampa, Florida; Newark, New Jersey; and San Antonio. Comments on the list or opinions on the best places to practice civil engineering can be added to ASCE's Collaborate (

And to participate in the 2020 ASCE Salary Survey and receive four customized, personal reports, visit

Robert L. Reid is the senior editor and features manager, and Laurie A. Shuster is the editor in chief of Civil Engineering.  Matt Fogleson contributed research to this article.

Civil Engineering, April 2020, © American Society Of Civil Engineers. All Rights Reserved


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