Romans and Roads


Since the beginning of our current economic downturn, pundits and armchair historians alike have compared the modern United States to the Roman Empire shortly before its decline. I usually change the channel or flip to the next page when I read such headlines, because to put it plainly – the US is not Rome. I chalk it up to a case of playing on people’s fears to attract viewers or sell books, and go about my day. However, there are similarities between the two, and the good news is, unfortunately for Rome, we can learn from their expense.

We all know what happened to the great and vast Roman Empire. It came to its height, in part, because of its vast and advanced transportation and infrastructure network. Its army was efficient in many ways, but part of the ferocity that struck fear in the enemies of Rome was the speed at which its fighting force could travel on the roads they built. Trade across the empire

was considered reliable and consistent because of the costs the Romans bore in order to ensure a working transportation system. Even today, Roman roads are still used by Europeans. In fact, an Aqueduct in the Spanish town of Segovia had been used to provide water until only recently. Alas, Rome fell for a number of unique and specific reasons, but the beginning of the end of the Roman Empire paralleled closely with the rapid decline in its infrastructure.

At ASCE we are committed to efficient, sustainable, and smart infrastructure development and work to include and educate lawmakers in our federal, state, and local governments on the imperatives we are facing. As with any issue that impacts the well being of our future, the old adage of “those who forget history are doomed to repeat” can be applied to the many ways in which we seek to advance  the quality of our nation’s roads, bridges, dams, etc. We have the distinct benefit of being able to look back into our history and learn from the lessons of previous civilizations. As we begin our efforts to release ASCE’s 2013 Report Card on America’s Infrastructure, we should also ready ourselves to finally tackle the problems facing our nation’s declining network of transportation and infrastructure.

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