Two Thurston County Public Works staff members and Saint Martin’s University alumni received state recognition for their leadership of the $1.85 million Littlerock Road bridge replacement.
Matt Unzelman and Brandon Hicks say they were surprised and honored to be named “Project Managers of the Year” by the Washington State County Road Administration Board. The award was presented during the Washington State Association of County Engineers annual meeting in June.
“We didn’t know we were nominated,” said Unzelman, 32, who grew up in Chehalis. “There are so many other impressive projects.”
“I was taken aback,” added Hicks, 30, who grew up in Napavine. “It didn’t seem like our project was in a statewide scale.”
In January 2014, county crews discovered that the 1950s-era bridge over Salmon Creek near 110th Avenue was riddled with cracks and sags and had structurally failed, according to Unzelman. After nearly a one-month closure for temporary repairs, the bridge reopened with some restrictions, but was closed again in less than 24 hours because of safety concerns.
The project, from the day crews found a cracked pier in the bridge until the new span was opened, took less than eight months. Typically, a project at that level would have taken about three years, Unzelman said.
Thurston County Public Works director Ramiro Chavez, who received the award himself a couple of years ago for his work in Pierce County, said he nominated the team because they were able to manage an extremely difficult project under budget and within a short time frame.
“This particularly had its challenges,” Chavez said. “First of all, from the design point, Matt had an incredible task of not just designing the bridge itself, but also coordinating with the funding agencies and the regulating agencies.”
Once the bridge was designed, Hicks had to help crews overcome numerous challenges with utilities in the area, including a natural gas line, electric and phone lines, and cable and fiber optics.
Unzelman and Hicks are both graduates of the civil engineering program at Saint Martin’s. Hicks worked in the private sector for several years before joining the county a year and a half ago as a construction and engineering support manager; Unzelman is a civil engineer and has worked for the county for about 10 years.
They said the bridge replacement was a success because of the various partners on the project, including the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Ecology, Washington State Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, among others.
“”We all kind of just came together,” Unzelman said.
The men also say their families were incredibly supportive during the project. “There were quite a few overnighters,” Unzelman said.
Both men are salaried employees, so they didn’t earn overtime for those 20-hour days.
They’ve already been scheduled to do a presentation on the bridge project at the American Public Works Association’s conference in Yakima this fall.
“The idea is to share our story and how we were able to accomplish it in eight months,” Unzelman said. “Maybe this will be an example for other agencies.”