Any engineering student can recount how wind-induced vibrations and poor aerodynamics caused “Galloping Gertie,” the first Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge, to swing wildly and collapse into the channel during a storm November 7, 1940.

More than 60 years after that failure, a group of Washington State University engineering alumni are helping to build a new bridge next to the one that replaced the original in 1950. The effort began in 2002 and is expected to cost $849 million. It will be the largest single project ever undertaken by the Washington State Department of Transportation.

“It’s a dream job for me and a lot of the folks working on it,” says Dennis Engel (’83 Civil Engr.), project engineer for the WSDOT. “This is a once-in-a-career project. This bridge will be standing much longer than I will.”

The mile-long bridge will be built parallel to the current Tacoma Narrows Bridge, known as “Sturdy Gertie.” Its concrete towers will rise more than 500 feet, and the two concrete anchorages holding the structure will each weigh more than 44,000 tons. The project also retrofits the existing bridge to better withstand earthquakes, and provides extensive roadway improvements along State Route 16.

Engel oversees construction and inspection for the state on the project.

Other WSU engineering alumni working on the project include Flint Gard (’86 Civil Engr.), who serves as the anchorage superintendent for Tacoma Narrows Constructors; Eric Ostfeld (’97 Civil Engr.), who oversees construction for all land-based activities, including coordinating between WSDOT and the builders; and Ray Crumbley (’87 Civil Engr.), plans liaison engineer for the Olympic region, who reviews design for roadway plans and non-bridge work.

The engineers say they feel fortunate to work on a project of this size. “It’s going to be hard to go back to a normal job,” says Ostfeld.


Click here to read a longer feature on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and WSU engineering alumni.