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Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life

Building Better Bridges

Thursday, May 25, 2017

As part of our Distinguished Speaker Series, two former U.S. Secretaries of Transportation spoke about the bipartisan promise of improving infrastructure and encouraged students to "move from cynical to skeptical."

Ray LaHood and Andy Card

At a time of heightened political divisiveness in Washington, D.C., and beyond, might investment in our nation’s roads and bridges be the thing that unites Republicans and Democrats? According to two former U.S. Secretaries of the Transportation who visited Tufts on May 1, the answer is a tentative yes.

As part of our Distinguished Speaker Series, Tisch College welcomed to campus Ray LaHood, former Congressman (IL-18) and Secretary of Transportation, along with Andy Card, former White House Chief of Staff and Secretary of Transportation, for a forum entitled “The Engineering of Transportation Infrastructure: Process, Strategies, and Politics.”

Following a lively roundtable discussion with School of Engineering students, its Dean Jianmin Qu opened the public forum and welcomed the audience of more than 70 people, which included Tufts students and alumni along with engineering professionals from the Boston area.

Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont then set the stage for the discussion, acknowledging that “our currently political environment is clearly a challenge, but it’s also an opportunity.” He called for a “renewed commitment to civic engagement, political dialogue, and faith in our ability to work together for the common good,” using the challenge of addressing our failing critical infrastructure systems as an example of an opportunity to work together.

In a conversation moderated by Chris Swan, Tisch College Faculty Liaison and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Card and LaHood picked up on that theme. Secretary LaHood maintained that “we need a new transportation program for America, and bipartisan support is the only way” to get it done. As for the prospects of achieving a bipartisan plan, LaHood said he was relatively optimistic that “President Trump understands that” and will work across the aisle to make it happen.

Secretary Card echoed that cautious optimism, and argued that state and local officials should have a big role to play in setting priorities because they are best equipped to understand the needs of their own communities. He challenged young people to get engaged, on this and other issues, imploring them to “please move from cynical to skeptical.”

Both Card and LaHood made clear that everyone—including the engineers in the room—had a responsibility to lend their expertise and their voices to the debate, making the case for smart investments in innovation and infrastructure systems that will connect families, communities and employers in a sustainable way. “Engineers must get involved in the process. Start talking to your legislators,” LaHood suggested. Card agreed, asking everyone to “work together and be part of the process” at all levels of government.

That call for more engagement seemed a fitting note on which to end the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series for the 2016-17 academic year. As Dean Solomont pointed to the students in the room, he said: “We need your ideas, your talent, your energy, and your voice to help heal what divides us and to move ahead to a more robust, more inclusive civic future.”