“Yeah…I Built That”

Image of an older suspension bridge at dusk. Lights shine on the bridge.

One of the coolest things about being a transportation engineer has got to be looking up at a towering, multi-million-dollar construction project and saying, “Yeah, I built that.”

But even better? Knowing that your labor of love helps thousands of people get to and from work on time every day.

Ever since the South Park Bridge in King County Washington was opened by the King County Department of Transportation in 2014, it has attracted oohs and aahs from news and media outlets around the nation. It was even dubbed the No. 1 Bridge Project in America by Roads & Bridges magazine in 2015. But for commuters in the Seattle area the reaction was probably something more like! “OMG! THANK YOU.”

Construction of the new South Park Bridge began in 2011. The bridge replaced a structure built over the Duwamish River in 1929. The original bridge was in danger of collapse, resulting in its closure.

The new South Park bridge is a spectacular, 1,285 feet drawbridge. It is also a marvel of modern engineering. The bridge is easily strong enough to sustain the weight of the 20,000 automobiles and 3,000 heavy trucks that pass over it each day. Yet it can raise both of its 3.5-million-pound drawspans with the same amount of energy that it takes to power a Toyota Prius.

Lifting 3.5 million pounds with the same amount of energy it takes to power a small sedan seems pretty incredible. But transportation engineering is all about turning the impossible into reality. Engineers like Brian Phan (featured in the video accompanying this article) have awesome jobs. They get to create the transportation equipment and infrastructure that people rely on every single day. Does designing bridges, roads, runways, high tech cars, computers, navigation systems, and cool and useful stuff seem appealing to you? You should definitely give this career option some consideration.

Screenshot image taken from our interview with Brian Phan.

Click a button to watch an interview with Brian Phan:

For students seeking information on transportation engineering careers, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) website is a great place to start. Why? Because transportation and civil engineering tend to go hand-in-hand. In fact, many transportation engineers start out as civil engineering majors in college. Then, they focus on transportation as a career later. Brian Phan is a civil engineer, yet his bridge expertise puts him in the category of transportation engineering. Highway designers are another type of civil engineer who does transportation engineering.

For students considering a transportation career, the ASCE website is packed with resources. These include a pre-college outreach page, scholarship information, career mentoring programs, and even tuition assistance. Students can also join a group of ASCE’s Committee on Younger Members. Then they can take part in awesome events like the Bridge Building Competition.

There are tons of other great online resources for students interested in transportation engineering. We’ve linked to just a few of them here:

For even more information, take a browse through our Fast Forward archive. You’ll find material featuring students and professionals from a huge variety of transportation careers.

So, go explore what’s out there! Maybe someday you’ll be able to say, “Yeah, I built that.”

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 3 Number 1 - National Transportation Week