Point Out Glaring Flaw in City Engineer’s Work – Get Accused of Practicing Engineering Without a License

When the State of North Carolina proposed widening a road from two lanes to four, some residents of a nearby subdivision objected that the plan did not include enough traffic lights to allow easy access to the road. An engineering consultant hired by the City of Raleigh concluded that the lights were not needed, and the residents’ concerns were dismissed.

Not satisfied, the North Raleigh Coalition of Homeowners’ Associations (NORCHOA) took a closer look at the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. They found that the City’s engineering consultant made a simple and obvious mistake – the consultant assumed that the expanded four lane road would carry the same traffic as the current two lane road. NORCHOA redid the analysis by the book, following the book’s recommendation to revise the traffic estimates based on the future road configuration. When they did, the analysis demonstrated that lights were indeed appropriate. NORCHOA summarized their analysis and submitted it in a report.

Now the head of NORCHOA, Dr. David Cox ( a computer scientist by training), is facing an investigation by the State of North Carolina for practicing engineering without a license. In December, State Traffic Engineer J. Kevin Lacy filed a complaint with the N.C. Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors against Cox:

In his complaint, Lacy charged that NORCHOA’s critique crossed a line between appropriate public comment and detailed analysis that should only be done by a professional licensed to do traffic engineering. The evidence, Lacy said, was the report itself. The board should decide whether the group violated the law and, if so, “take appropriate action.”

Separately, Lacy wrote Cox that he is legally required as a licensed traffic engineer to report anyone treading on the profession’s turf. “Analyses and decisions impacting the safety of the public are all determinations that are to be made by licensed engineers,” Lacy stated.

Lacy told the Indy he’s used to being “chewed out” by citizens who want a stop light installed or a speed limit lowered (or raised). He has no hard feelings toward Cox or NORCHOA, he said. Nor should citizens hesitate to comment or question N.C. DOT proposals and studies.

“I’m not by any means saying don’t send us more questions or more comments,” Lacy said. “I’m not opposed to people questioning us.” But he added, “Would we allow citizens to do an alternate analysis of the structure of a bridge?”

Missing in Lacy’s complaint is the obvious point that what matters is not the credential of the advocate but rather the validity of the result. Is Lacy seriously suggesting that a non-credentialed citizen savvy enough to spot an obvious flaw in a bridge design had better keep quiet lest the N.C. Board of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors be sicced against them? Also, I’ve been unable to find any public rebuttal or refutation of the quite clear and straightforward analysis in the NORCHOA report.

Fortunately, this clear and obvious abuse of power has backfired, drawing national attention to what was a local dispute. ÆtherCzar will report on any further developments. Hat tips: Glenn Reynolds, Walter Olsen.

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