Op-ed: Meadows, Proctor: Smart licensing will protect infrastructure in West Virginia
As West Virginia prepares to spend billions of dollars in new federal infrastructure funds, citizens of our state must have faith in the integrity of these new construction projects.
The best way to ensure this important public confidence is to make sure the people behind the projects have rigorous training and qualifications.
The truth is, strong, responsible licensing requirements for civil engineers, architects, and others who will be tasked with designing and constructing our state’s infrastructure is central to ensuring the protection of West Virginians. Also critical to the effort will be licensed, professional CPAs to help ensure this new money is being spent wisely, efficiently and for its intended purpose.
We recognize there is some debate in this area, but the fact remains that these professions are vital to the future of West Virginia.
The recent bridge collapse near Pittsburgh underscores the urgent need to shore up critical infrastructure with the skills and expertise of licensed professionals.
This need goes beyond just building new roads and bridges. It extends to upgrading and modernizing our existing roads and bridges to ensure they are safe.
The 2020 West Virginia Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave our state’s roads and bridges a grade of “D+,” the second-to-lowest grade possible. They noted that, of the 7,291 bridges maintained by the West Virginia Division of Highways, 1,531 (or 21%) are structurally deficient.
The ASCE report also noted that West Virginia has the sixth-largest highway system in the United States with 38,000 miles of roadways — 88% of which are rural and 12% are urban. The state’s Division of Highways is one of only four in the nation responsible for maintaining both state and county roads. Many of these roads, the report correctly notes, are over mountainous terrain, presenting unique maintenance and safety challenges related to geography.
Given the scope and complexity of these challenges, it is more important than ever to make sure the professionals who will be charged with improving our infrastructure are qualified and experienced.
Yet, as we prepare for this undertaking, some in Charleston are entertaining proposals to weaken or eliminate licensure for the professionals that have rigorous education and experience requirements critical to our state’s physical and fiscal infrastructure.
If this all sounds familiar, it is because lawmakers flirted with the idea of downgrading professional licensing during the last two legislative sessions. Proposing broad-brush reforms and ignoring existing and nuanced professional licensing models.
In both sessions, these misguided, dangerous proposals were scrapped after public outcry reminded lawmakers that comprehensive licensing enjoys strong support among their constituents because we know it protects our health, safety and welfare.
Like clockwork, a small but loud group of out-of-state anti-licensing hardliners is back to try again. Our elected representatives should, once again, reject their proposals in the name of commonsense and public protection.
A better use of lawmakers’ time and energy would be to focus on ways to strengthen licensing so that the new federal infrastructure money can be put to the best use for the most people in our state. In this endeavor, they would be well-served to look to professional licensing models that have served the public well and consult with state licensing boards that have expertise in this area.
It is more important than ever that lawmakers be prudent and prioritize public protection by continuing to reject the anti-licensing proposals coming from a small, misguided chorus of hardliners.
Broad-brush proposals simply do not work. Smart, responsible professional licensing does.
David Meadows is a registered professional engineer and surveyor. He is also the West Virginia Region 4 governor for the American Society of Civil Engineers and the chief technical officer for Triad Engineering Inc.
Judy Proctor is a licensed CPA in West Virginia and the CEO of the West Virginia Society of CPAs.
Op-ed published in Charleston Gazette-Mail: