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Highway Engineer


Many important aspects of our lives including highways, roads, parking lots and other transportation sources that we take for granted are the products of highway engineering. For example, roads and tunnels, which provide people with safe and speedy travel access require the expertise of a highway engineer. Highway engineers plan and design systems for the safe, economical, efficient and environmentally friendly movement of people and goods. They supervise the construction, maintenance and decommissioning of a wide variety of public and private transportation structures and facilities such as streets, highways and mass-transit systems.

They must have an understanding of the economic and social factors involved, as well as the engineering principles involved. Highway engineers affect everyone's lives because the transport of goods and people help fuel our economy and make our lives run smoothly. If it were not for their necessary work, our world would have no safe highway infrastructure.

Most highway engineers specialize in a particular area once they become established. Areas such as traffic calming, parking lots and tunnels are a few different options they can choose from. Nevertheless, all specialized highway engineers perform similar duties. They must meet with architects, urban planners, lawyers and contractors in order to make sure that design plans are safe and will withstand a number of conditional variables. Safety is one of the most important issues that highway engineers must contend with, including the safety of bikers and pedestrians. They research and create engineering plans on computers which test and predict possible problems with a structure and in this, they generate solutions. Although most work takes place on the computer, most highway engineers travel to the work sites to see their work in progress.

Highway engineers use traditional and high-tech tools like Intelligent Transportation Systems and Smart Systems, to solve problems and meet challenges such as traffic congestion, exhaust pollution and urban development in relation to our highway infrastructure. In another study, highway engineers were hired to examine the need for passing lanes and their effect on the level of traffic. Accordingly, they research and evaluate each project to find the most cost-effective solutions to problems while still maintaining recognized standards.
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  Interests and Skills  
Highway engineers must be safety conscious and practical in decision making. They possess good communication skills because they work closely with contractors, architects and clients. Highway engineers can analyze difficult scientific and mathematical data, review calculations and prepare cost estimates and have the ability to visualize three-dimensional objects from two-dimensional drawings. They must be dedicated to their projects, be creative in their designs and be as knowledgeable as possible in the engineering field. Finally, they should enjoy being innovative, doing work that requires precision and making solid decisions.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Plan and design transportation systems such as highways, streets, railroads and tunnels
  • Investigate and minimize the effects of new developments and proposed highway projects on air and noise pollution, wetlands and other aspects of the environment, as well as socio-economic impacts
  • Implement ways to relieve traffic congestion, such as bus and carpool lanes on roadways and encourage the use of public transportation
  • Provide advice on the operation and maintenance of all types of transportation facilities
  • Plan, design and operate parking facilities for airports, shopping centers, recreational, industrial, office and residential developments
  • Prepare traffic impact studies for new developments and determine transportation improvements to mitigate the additional traffic
  • Design and control a computerized traffic signal system to allow for efficient movement of traffic
  • Invent ways to increase the capacity and safety of roadways through the use of Intelligent Transportation Systems
  • Working environments for highway engineers are as varied as their projects. Most spend the majority of their time in offices on the computer, making mathematical calculations, and phone calls. They also get to travel to project work sites and they sometimes must testify in front of a public hearing. They usually work anywhere between eight and 10 hours each day and longer hours may be required if there are any emergencies. They often work with a team that may include professionals from other engineering and scientific disciplines, contractors, urban planners, architects, bankers, lawyers or government officials.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Highway engineers work in both the public and private sectors. They are employed by government agencies, especially in the municipal sector, transportation engineering consulting firms, construction companies, parking lot companies, research and educational institutions, communications companies and many other industries. Some highway engineers are self-employed and own their own engineering consulting firm or a related business.

  Long Term Career Potential  
With experience, highway engineers can become project managers and eventually advance to the senior management of very large projects or companies. They can eventually become the chief transportation engineers on projects like a major highway improvement project. Some experienced highway engineers may decide to branch off on their own and establish their own construction, transportation, parking lot or consulting companies. Those with PhDs might teach at a university or conduct research.

  Educational Paths  
Due to the nature of the job, highway engineers require a university undergraduate degree in civil engineering or in a related field of transportation engineering. They must also become registered as a Professional Engineer (PEng) within an association of professional engineers to secure employment and practice in their field. Some highway engineers also get master's degrees in their specific area to open up as many job options as possible.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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