Top 10 North American Infrastructure Projects of the Past 75 Years

September 28, 2010

The International Right of Way Association (IRWA) is celebrating its 75th Anniversary by recognizing the Top 10 List of North American infrastructure projects of the past 75 years, and the people who made them a reality.

Last year, as IRWA geared up for its 75th anniversary, they realized that there was no better time to show the true impact of these behind-the-scenes infrastructure professionals. So they rallied their members – professionals from the public and private sectors who plan, research, design, implement and manage these vital projects – and asked them to nominate those projects that have had the greatest impact on America's quality of life.

IRWA's announcement comes as President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is signed into law. This economic stimulus plan, which focuses heavily on the country's infrastructure, is designed to create millions of jobs, many of which would come from funding the repairing of roads, bridges, schools and other longer-term infrastructure projects. So who are these people who make infrastructure projects come to life?

The highways we drive on, utilities in our homes, telephone towers that enable us to communicate – all exist because a right of way professional applied their unique expertise in creating the nation's infrastructure.

"The right of way profession is always a bit challenging to explain," notes IRWA International President, Faith A. Roland, SR/WA. "We encompass so many different disciplines, it's hard to articulate the diverse range of professionals it takes to construct a bridge or build a new highway. We are a very multi-disciplined group of specialists, and nearly every group is required at one phase or another when a major infrastructure project is undertaken."

IRWA Executive Vice President, Mark Rieck says, "Developing real property for the nation's transportation, water and energy projects is probably the most user-friendly way to describe the role of our right of way professionals. Selecting sites, preparing feasibility studies, dealing with zoning, platting, utilities, environmental reports, government approvals, deed restrictions, utility easements, project management ... and the list goes on and on. Our nation's infrastructure projects employ thousands of professionals, and in many cases, they span over years and even decades."

In 2008, members nominated more than 130 projects. Following an organization-wide vote, the Top 10 resulted in this unique mix of "quality of life" projects:

  1. Interstate Highway System
  2. Florida's Turnpike Suncoast Parkway
  3. Hoover Dam
  4. Trans Alaska Pipeline
  5. 2nd Tacoma Narrows Bridge
  6. Confederation Bridge
  7. City of Phoenix Light Rail
  8. Austin Clean Water Program
  9. I-10 Katy Freeway Expansion
  10. Golden Gate Bridge

"While some of these projects are known around the world, the majority are less visible and far from glamorous," commented IRWA past president, Jim Struble, SR/WA." So, it's important to realize that those who voted actually understand and appreciate these projects on two levels; one, the massive undertaking that was required and two, the massive impact each has had on improving our everyday lives."

IRWA was founded in 1934, when the U.S. economy was in the midst of the Great Depression. Infrastructure projects were created through President Roosevelt's New Deal, leading to a need for an organized association of right of way professionals. Much like the public works projects of the Great Depression, President Obama hopes to boost the U.S. economy and improve the country's infrastructure. For the past 75 years, IRWA has focused on continuing education and maintaining the high ethical standards of its 9,500 members.

Throughout the year, IRWA will be celebrating its landmark 75th anniversary by shedding light on the impact of right of way projects past, present and future. To view the complete list of infrastructure projects nominated and learn more about IRWA, their programs and the right of way industry, visit or call (310) 538-0233.