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THE NEED FOR SYSTEMATIC INSTRUCTION IN
BY A. N. JOHNSON, Highway Engineer, Office of Public Roads, U. S. Dept. of Agriculture.
It is my purpose to bring before your association the need that exists for further and more systematic instruction in highway engineering than is at present given in any of the engineering schools in this country.
This need exists for two reasons: First, because of the large sums of money which are now spent upon highway work which is not under skilled supervision; and second, because of the demand that already exists through the desire of the many communities to secure trained and experienced men for this skilled supervision.
There have been collected by the Office of Public Roads of the Department of Agriculture statistics showing the exact amounts spent on road work in over one thousand counties. The actual sum as ascertained is $19,430,000. As these counties represent less than four tenths of the country, there are annually spent to-day not less than $50,000,000 in maintaining the public roads and bridges.
A close study of the results obtained make it a conservative estimate to say that at least one half of this money is at present wasted so far as beneficial results to the roads are concerned. It is a notorious fact that, with few exceptions, the roads in the various communities have improved but little, the results being wholly disproportionate to the large sums of money that have been raised for this purpose. In no other branch of constructive work is any such amount of money spent without skilled supervision. It is now recognized, not alone by those who have studied carefully the situation, but by thinking people in general, that the results obtained are not what they should be, and that there is something wrong in most communities with the present method of administering the road funds.
While this fact obtains such general recognition, the remedy is not so generally perceived; which is to have the road funds in the various communities administered by a man trained to his work, a highway engineer. The proof of this statement is readily demonstrated by the fact that in those communities where a decided advance has been made in highway construction and where good results are obtained, it has been invariably under the management of engineers skilled in this class of work. These instances are all too few, and are confined in the main to the few states where state commissions have organized state highway engineering bureaus.
The reason why there are so few men in the country whose training should make them capable of solving intelligently the problem, or suggesting the remedy for this condition of things, is the fact that little or no attention has been given to this subject in the engineering schools. It is the educated and trained men in the different communities who must always be depended on to take the lead and suggest in detail the remedy for whatever lack exists in the administration of public affairs.
It seems, therefore, if for no other reason than to point out the right path, that the technical schools of the country should provide the fundamental training necessary for a perception of the course to be pursued. These schools have had for many years courses of study in railroad problems, and every civil engineer student in all of the larger technical schools has pursued systematic studies in railroad engineering-with the result that there have always been found men trained and capable of carrying on railroad development.
To be sure the student's time in most of the engineering schools is already overcrowded with the various courses of study, and it would be impossible in most instances to add to the present requirements any large amount of work. But this does not seem necessary; for it would be quite feasible to offer the student the option of highway engineering or railroad engineering. Why is it necessary to give every student in civil engineering this practice in railroad engineering? There are great numbers of civil engineer graduates who never had an idea of taking up railroad work, nor any occasion to do so. On the other hand, there are great numbers of them called upon to build highways of various kinds and to perform a class of work for which they have had no systematic training. Why not then provide for such men a course in highway engineering and give to them the same fundamental principles in this branch of their profession that is given to railroad problems?
The average amount of time now devoted to railroad engineering in fifteen of the most prominent technical schools is one hundred and sixty-two hours. For the most part this work is given in the first half of the third year and is divided into six hours a week of classroom exercises, and field work counting as the equivalent of three hours in the class-room, making a total of nine hours a week for a half year. Four out of these fifteen schools give no courses whatever in highway engineering, while the time devoted to such courses in the remainder amounts on the average to but thirtytwo hours, which does not include any practice in the field; the courses offered consisting almost entirely of lecture and text-book work.
Instead of such a program why not offer courses in highway engineering taking an equal amount of time to that devoted to railroad engineering. The field work in highway engineering should include the practical location of roads designed for various conditions, in which every student would have as good drill in the laying out of curves and the solution of various problems in surveying as now occurs in the field practice given in railroad work. The great difference between the field work in railroad engineering and in highway engineering is that in one instance the problem is solved from the standpoint of railroad economics, and in the other from that of highway economics; and these require essentially different treatment.
The class-room exercises could consist of the lecture work as at present given in many of the schools, supplemented by a much more extended study of the systematic treatment of various classes of roads, as city streets, streets for suburban development, park ways and boulevards, and rural highways, this combined with laboratory study of the various materials which enter into road construction, so as to give the student some well-grounded ideas concerning a rational, business-like treatment for a given condition.
Courses are now offered to the student in municipal engineering, for instance, outlining a systematic plan for a sewerage system of a city; and drill and training are given in designing a system considering the problem as one applying to a whole community. But none of the courses of study outline in a systematic way the problem of pavements for a city as a whole. The result of the lack of appreciation of such problems is to be seen in every city in the country. If fundamental training in this subject had been given in our larger engineering schools, I do not think it possible that such haphazard methods as are now found could exist, even though the personnel of the various city engineering forces changes more frequently than is perhaps consistent with the best results.
To further illustrate the need that exists for men trained in highway work, the office of Public Roads of the Department of Agriculture in order to secure men for its work is giving a number of young engineer graduates a year's training in practical highway work, for which they are paid fifty dollars a month. These engineer students, as they are called, are given from two to three months' thorough drill in the laboratory, including practice in the preparation of plans and estimates and highway economics. They are then placed on actual highway construction where they must make a close study of the business methods and report on all of the various operations that come under their observation. After a year of this training they are assigned