Michigan Tech Prof Helps Mighty Mac Gain National Recognition

By Marcia Goodrich | Published

Mackinac Bridge, photo courtesy of the Mackinac Bridge Authority
Mackinac Bridge, photo courtesy of the Mackinac Bridge Authority

When the Mackinac Bridge is officially designated a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark on Aug. 12, no one will be happier than Michigan Technological University’s Tess Ahlborn.

“It joined Michigan’s two peninsulas together. It opened up another trade route with Canada. It truly advanced the civil engineering profession,” she says. “And, it’s the Mighty Mac!”

Ahlborn prepared the package nominating the bridge for recognition as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). An associate professor of civil engineering, she was asked to undertake the task on behalf of ASCE’s Michigan chapter. “I was so honored,” she said. “The bridge is just magnificent. It’s a marvel.”

The public dedication ceremony will be held Thursday, Aug. 12, at 11 a.m. at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace. Dignitaries from the Mackinac Bridge Authority, the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the ASCE Michigan section will be present, along with Ahlborn and the national president of ASCE, Kathy Caldwell.

Ahlborn’s nomination provides an overview of the five-mile bridge’s construction (it took three years and cost nearly $100 million), its historical significance (fulfilling a 1888 dream for an easy crossing of the Straits of Mackinac) and its unique features (allowing it to withstand wintery ice and gales).

In particular, the Mackinac Bridge put to rest once and for all concerns raised by another suspension bridge, the Tacoma Narrows in Washington state. “Gallopin’ Gertie” collapsed under 40 mph winds in 1940. Lead engineer David Steinman’s aerodynamic studies showed that the Mackinac could withstand winds in excess of 600 mph, thanks in large part to a framework of steel girders reinforcing its entire length.

Ahlborn is not the only member of the Michigan Tech community with ties to the Mighty Mac. Its current chief engineer, Kim Nowack, earned her civil engineering degree from the University in 1985. The late faculty member C. “Ed” Haltenhoff, a member of the Michigan Construction Hall of Fame, was the project engineer in charge of constructing the foundations, which extend 210 feet below the water.

In addition, students and alumni joined the thousands of Michigan workers who labored on the bridge from 1954 to 1957.

“I know that everyone who worked on this bridge, from the engineers to the ironworkers, would be thrilled it is being recognized,” Ahlborn said. “The Mighty Mac is a national engineering treasure, and this honor is as much for the people who built the bridge as for the bridge itself.”

For more information on the Mackinac Bridge and the dedication ceremony, visit mackinacbridge.org .

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 60 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.