WSDOT uses history as tool for future

HOOD CANAL — When Charlie Evans started work with the Washington State Department of Transportation as a bridge engineer in 1970, he had only a slide rule, books, his comrades and his wits to help make the Hood Canal Bridge float.

Now, though the slide rules and books have been shelved, and Evans has retired, the WSDOT crews working on the current Hood Canal Bridge project continue to rely on his wits and knowledge while utilizing modern day technology.

“Now, we have programs generated to design the bridge, but there are limitations to the programs,” he said. “There might be something someone overlooks. We used to have tables and tables of numbers we’d look at, and something would jump out at us that something was not right.”

Though that still happens to a degree, and computer programming has greatly decreased many human errors that came up before their invention, Evans said he still gets calls from current engineers with questions about how he did things in the “old days.”

In days past, Evans said he really got involved in the floating bridge when the west side of it sank in 1979 during a violent windstorm. He said he was one of 30 or 40 engineers scattered across the state and country working to fix the large problem, and he said he examined at least four different bridge sites to see how best to repair and improve the Hood Canal Bridge.

“As far as I know, the only way, and the best way, to get across the Hood Canal is with a floating bridge,” Evans said with a laugh. He added of all the designs he studied, the Hood Canal Bridge was the best execution of a floating bridge he’d seen.

The current replacement project, which will close the bridge from May to June 2009 to replace the entire east half, began during the repair project from 1979 to 1982. At that time, however, there was a report filed that stated if certain measures were taken, the eastern half could last another 20 years.

“The decision was made to do that,” Evans said. “Some reports of what we had to do have been done. They basically said if you do this much work, and spend this much millions of dollars, you will get extra life out of it.”

During the project, WSDOT interim communications manager Theresa Gren said crews are in fairly regular contact with Evans and other retired engineers and workers who participated in the 1979 closure. She said their knowledge and the way they can pick up on things the computers may have missed helps keep the process moving forward smoothly.

“All of Charlie’s work has added up to a safer, easier process when we do something like this,” she said. “The bridge office still calls on Charlie for his expertise. I just find that completely remarkable, he’s still accessible to engineers at WSDOT.”

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