What Types of Civil Engineering Projects Are There? 

what types of civil engineering projects are there

One of the oldest professions in the world, civil engineering reaches far and wide, with subspecialties in many different areas. Civil engineers work on a selection of many different projects, ranging from bridges to tunnels to subways to dams—and much, much more.  

Think of any given monument or man-made landmark in the world. Odds are that civil engineers were involved in the planning, design, and building of that project. Civil engineers have worked on world-changing projects like the Panama Canal, the Eiffel Tower, England’s HS2 Railway, China’s National Stadium . . . and the list goes on.   

In this article, we will discuss the most common types of projects that civil engineers contribute to. We’ll also go over some of the monumental undertakings that they have been part of so far. By the time you’re done reading, you’re sure to have a new perspective on just how important civil engineers are to our modern society.  

railway design

Common Civil Engineering Projects 

Many of the projects that civil engineers contribute to are public works projects such as roads, bridges, railways, canals, dams, and tunnels. However, some civil engineering projects take place in the private sector as well. These next 12 types of projects are some of the most frequently seen in the field of civil engineering.  


Civil engineers are involved in building some of the world’s modern marvels, including bridges. No matter what body of water they’re spanning, it’s crucial that bridges are built with the utmost attention to detail. After all, they serve a crucial purpose, and drivers and pedestrians alike count on them to be built safely and securely.  

Within the field of civil engineering, structural engineers will normally be the ones in charge of the overall design, analysis, and integrity assurance related to bridges. They have special training in order to identify and analyze the loads that the bridges will need to carry as well as other stresses or forces that are in play.  


According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 72% of the country’s goods are moved via U.S. highways and roads. But there’s a problem: the combination of increasing traffic volume and decreasing maintenance has left about 43% of the country’s roads in disrepair. That’s where civil engineers come in. 

Fenstermaker has been the primary design firm for multiple roadway projects, including creating extra lanes on highways (like the US 90 [I-49 South] Design Build project) and creating roundabouts to help with traffic management. 

Civil engineers who specialize in road engineering play a vital role in building and preserving our nation’s transportation infrastructure. Nowadays, most roads and interchanges are designed using civil engineering software (like CAD). Individuals who are able to develop a high level of proficiency with these programs may have a successful career in road design. 


If you’ve traveled to any of America’s major East Coast cities (think New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Chicago, or Philadelphia), then you’ve probably ridden a subway. These public transportation systems are essentially underground electric railways that divert commuters and travelers from driving on the above-ground roads reserved for cars.  

Civil engineers play a crucial role in planning, designing, and building our nation’s subway systems. Whether it’s Chicago’s L, Boston’s T, or the D.C. Metro, civil engineers have to analyze conditions and ensure that it’s safe to build subway tunnels. Construction can often be complicated due to problems involving traffic, utilities, and buildings. 


Since Ancient Greece, humans have been using railways (operated by either human or animal power). The industrial revolution overhauled these old-school methods through the invention of the steam engine, which led to the development of the first electric trains in the 1880s. Since then, railways have become a major component of economic interaction worldwide.  

Railway engineering is a subfield of civil engineering that handles the design, construction, and operation related to railway systems. This subdiscipline emerged when there first arose a need for engineers with a special skill set to address problems related to new railway systems. These days, railway engineers help build and maintain both new and existing railways around the globe.  


Anyone who has driven on America’s many highways has probably gone through a tunnel or two. In Seattle, for instance, the city recently opened its Highway 99 tunnel, now the longest continuous tunnel in the United States. The tunnel was made to enable easier access from the city’s bustling downtown to its waterfront attractions.  

Civil engineers were behind the design and construction of this tunnel (and every other tunnel you see today). Connecting different parts of cities through tunnels has boosted modern infrastructure and is making our world even more accessible. Civil engineers play a crucial role in ensuring these tunnels are safe, stable, and watertight.  


Our nation’s dams comprise one way that we collect, store, direct, and convey surface water. Dams allow us to do this in a controlled manner so that we can protect human lives and property during flooding events. If a dam fails, it will likely present a hazard to safety, property, and even natural resources. And unfortunately, America’s dams are growing older.  

Over one-third of our nation’s dams are already over half a century old and we rely on civil engineers to keep them functioning properly and safely. Not only do they have the skills to bring existing dams up to par, but civil engineers are also often responsible for the planning and building of new dams.   

The maintenance and repair of dams both new and old often involve a multidisciplinary team of civil engineers, including those who specialize in geotechnical engineering, hydrology, structural engineering, and mechanical engineering.  


A canal is an artificial man-made waterway that’s often used to connect two existing waterways in order to facilitate global trade and commerce. The most famous example is, of course, the Panama Canal, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.   

Canals were one of the first common civil engineering projects to alter the face of the Earth. Building these massive projects is a complex undertaking. Civil engineers must optimize the canal’s capacity for drainage management and conveying aquatic vehicles. At the same time, there are plenty of geographic and physical restrictions that influence engineering decisions around the construction, maintenance, and operation of canals.  


Aqueducts are actually a type of canal, but instead of transporting boats and commercial aquatic vehicles, they’re made to send water from place to place. There are many different types of aqueducts, beginning with the most simple versions that are essentially just small ditches cut into the earth. Even the Ancient Romans used aqueducts.   

These days, however, most aqueducts run through underground tunnels and have pipelines that define their path. The water transported through aqueducts may be used for human consumption or for agricultural irrigation. Either way, civil engineers will be involved with routing, designing, and building modern aqueducts.  

Wastewater Treatment 

In the United States and most other similarly developed countries, consumers use water on a daily basis and then discard it as wastewater through the complex plumbing systems that undergird our society. That plumbing system delivers the wastewater to a processing plant, where it’s treated using mechanical, biological, and chemical processes in order to maintain consistent water quality.   

Wastewater civil engineers are tasked with developing and maintaining this infrastructure. Water treatment deals with one of the world’s most important natural resources, and it requires a highly developed skill set including innovation and complex problem-solving.  


For those interested in aviation, the job of an airport civil engineer may be an attractive one. This role involves planning and laying out airports, including their landing fields and runways. Civil engineers who work on airports will also oversee the construction work as well as level fields, surface runways, and ensure drainage systems are effective.  

Much of today’s airport civil engineering work is focused on modernizing dated infrastructure. Flight allows humans so much more access to our world, but the industry depends on civil engineers in order to succeed.  

Landfill Capping 

Although civil engineers are typically involved in the entire process of designing and constructing landfills, they also have a hand in the capping portion of the operation. Capping refers to the placement of a cover over a landfill that contains contaminated material—whether it’s soil or waste—and it is an important part of landfill maintenance.

The covers used are called “caps,” hence the name. These caps don’t remove or destroy contaminants, but they do isolate them in order to prevent spreading contamination.  

So how are civil engineers involved? They help ensure that the project takes into account the natural environment surrounding the contaminated area. Civil engineers are an important resource when it comes to keeping our planet healthy.  


A levee is any low ridge or embankment that lies alongside the edges of a stream or river channel and prevents the water from flooding the nearby land. While they can occur naturally, most levees are man-made and are needed in order to control the flow of rivers that wander through poorly sloped floodplains.  

Civil engineers have to consider a wide variety of factors when designing levees. They need to think about the hydraulic impact of the structure on the floodplain, the area’s soil profile, the strengths of different foundation materials, settlement, the trafficability of the levee surface, and the slope stability where it is to be placed. Field investigations and surveying almost always occur before a levee is built.  

What Are Some Examples of Well-Known Civil Engineering Projects? 

Well-known civil engineering projects include Boston’s Big Dig, Louisiana’s Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, the English Channel Tunnel, the Panama Canal, Central Park Tower, and many others. You will quickly find that most modern landmarks rely on the skills of civil engineers.  

The Big Dig – Boston, MA 

Massachusetts took on what’s now known as “the Big Dig” beginning in 1991. It was a highway-related project that was focused on the central artery of highways that converged in the state’s capital city of Boston. Massachusetts legislators wanted to open up the city, creating more parks and open spaces. In order to do that, they decided to move the elevated highways underground.   

This $24 billion civil engineering project alleviated chronic traffic congestion in the city and created many acres of new parks. It involved digging plentiful tunnels, extending Interstate 90, and building multiple bridges across the Charles River.  

big dig boston

Lake Pontchartrain Causeway 

Often known simply as “the Causeway,” this massive civil engineering feat involves two parallel bridges that cross Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana. The longer of the two bridges is a whopping 23.83 miles long. In other words, it’s just short of a marathon!   

The bridge is so long that, for an eight-mile stretch in the middle of it, motorists actually lose sight of land. Building the Causeway was a $30 billion civil engineering project that took just 14 months using assembly line methods. The first bridge was finished in 1956 and the second was completed ten years later when the initial bridge exceeded its traffic capacity.  

English Channel Tunnel 

The English Channel Tunnel, which some locals call the “Chunnel,” is an underwater railway tunnel that connects England and France. It is the singular link between Great Britain and continental Europe. It’s an amazing civil engineering project because it’s actually the longest undersea tunnel in the world. Its underwater section is 23.6 miles long.  

Panama Canal 

An important conduit for overseas trade, the Panama Canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by way of the Isthmus of Panama. Before the canal was dug, ships had to go all the way around the tip of South America. The construction of the canal required the building of multiple dams as well as an artificial lake – all projects that needed civil engineering expertise.  

Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge 

The Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge is a civil engineering feat that involves three cable-stayed bridges, one undersea tunnel, and four artificial islands. It amounts to the longest sea crossing in the world. The planning and design of the bridge began in 2009, but the project was not completed until 2018. Civil engineers are still involved with maintaining and reviewing the bridge today.  

Central Park Tower 

A residential skyscraper in Midtown Manhattan, Central Park Tower is a 98-floor civil engineering marvel in the center of New York City. But the building isn’t just tall — it reflects state-of-the-art modern civil engineering practices with a focus on sustainability and environmental impact. In other words, this $3 billion building helps the planet.  

Itaipu Dam 

Considered one of the wonders of the modern world, the Itaipu Dam sits on the Parana River between Brazil and Paraguay. It’s as tall as a 65-story building and constructing it required enough iron and steel to build 380 Eiffel Towers. Civil engineers helped optimize its design to be a major energy producer and supply Brazil and Paraguay with the electricity needed for industrial development.  

Burj Khalifa 

The world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa is located in Dubai and is 163 floors high. It was designed by a Chicago-based civil engineering firm and came with a number of unique challenges. It had to stand strong on loose, sandy soil and brave the brisk Arabian winds. Civil engineers were able to problem-solve in order to make it all possible.   

civil engineering project

Final Thoughts 

No matter where you travel, there are high-quality civil engineering projects all over the world. From bridges to tunnels and subways to skyscrapers, civil engineers are behind all of the infrastructure projects that benefit our modern world. With a focus on environmental preservation, long-term sustainability, and of course safety, civil engineers are crucial to our society.  

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