The buzz is back.
The annual ASCE Legislative Fly-In returned this week to Washington, DC, for the first time in three years, after COVID pushed the 2021 event to a virtual platform and forced the cancelation of the 2020 iteration.
“It’s good to get back and see people,” said Jim Pajk, P.E., M.ASCE, who figures he hasn’t missed a fly-in for at least a decade, representing central Ohio. “And there’s a different energy having it right here in Capitol Hill.”
The ASCE fly-in gathered 225 ASCE members from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico – most of them in person, some participating via Zoom – for a three-day program of advocacy sessions and networking, highlighted by congressional visits to discuss infrastructure.
Those conversations took on a new tenor this year with the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law in November. At $1.2 trillion, it marks the largest infrastructure investment in the nation’s history.
Of course, that also can complicate certain congressional visits, depending on who you’re talking to.
“It’s exciting to always have that really good ‘thank you’ to offer people,” Pajk said. “But there are some challenges. From Ohio, Sen. (Rob) Portman was instrumental in getting the IIJA (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) accomplished in such a bipartisan way in the Senate. On the House side, it wasn’t as robustly bipartisan as we would have liked. So we’ve had to have some discussions with elected officials promoting the benefits of the IIJA in their district, even if they didn’t vote for it. Those can be challenging conversations.
“You want to be respectful of how they voted. At the same time, we want to discuss the benefits that they’re going to see. And they’re receptive.”
The other interesting challenge is ASCE members fending off the notion that with the bipartisan infrastructure law in place – as industry altering as that may be – the country’s infrastructure needs are taken care of. ASCE’s infrastructure advocacy work continues.
Pajk found a potent conversation starter in the recent news that Intel will be making a $20 billion investment in facilities in central Ohio.
“That’s an unbelievable talking point,” Pajk said. “It’s going to create more investment, but it also means we’re going to have to be proactive about our infrastructure. And it’s more than just roads and bridges. So it’s great to talk about that this week.”
While Pajk and his fellow grizzled advocacy veterans reconnected, many other ASCE members enjoyed their first Legislative Fly-In experience.
Less than a year out from graduating from college, Matthew Jacobson, EIT, ENV SP, A.M.ASCE, made the trip from Los Angeles for his initial fly-in.
“There is this really big intersection between civil engineering and the work we do and the legislative work that Congress does,” said Jacobson, who now works as a civil analyst for Kimley-Horn and Associates. “I think that really inspired me to get more connected. Graduating and being a working professional now, you see how the work we do as civil engineers directly impacts the community but also relies heavily on public funding. It seemed like everything was coming together all at the same time.”