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Spartan Engineer says goodbye to the Mighty Mac

May 20, 2019

Alumni update -- Bob Sweeney ’86 retires from Mackinac Bridge Authority

The Spartan Engineer who spent 17 years directing the operation and maintenance of Michigan’s iconic Mackinac Bridge was honored May 17 for his service to the state’s engineering marvel – the Mighty Mac.

Bob Sweeney '86 said he highly recommends internships for students - "my internship is where my career interests sunk in for me."
Bob Sweeney '86 said he highly recommends internships for students - "my internship is where my career interests sunk in for me."

Bob Sweeney, a 1986 civil engineering graduate, was thanked during a retirement reception in his hometown of St. Ignace and recognized for his leadership as the executive secretary of the Mackinac Bridge Authority (MBA).

“Bob has exemplified what it means to be a responsible steward, leading his team in the preservation of and stable planning for our iconic bridge,” said MBA Chairman Patrick “Shorty” Gleason. “We’ll greatly miss his cheerful demeanor, servant leadership, expertise and professional integrity.”

During his time directing the bridge authority, Sweeney led the first significant toll increases in the bridge’s history, major changes in the Annual Bridge Walk (eliminating the buses but giving people the opportunity to start from either side or walk across and back), and guided development of a 20-year business plan to address more than $300 million in preservation projects for the nearly 62-year-old structure.

“Basically, you are running a multimillion-dollar business,” Sweeney said, “maintaining the bridge, controlling costs, collecting sufficient revenue and saving for future needs. Through it all, we have stayed accountable to the Straits communities and Michigan, while drawing national and international attention,” he added.

Associate Professor Nizar Lajnef credits the support of Bob Sweeney ('86) and the MBA for helping MSU work on a first-in-the-country sensor project under the Mackinac Bridge.
Associate Professor Nizar Lajnef credits the support of Bob Sweeney ('86) and the MBA for helping MSU work on a first-in-the-country sensor project under the Mackinac Bridge.

MSU and the Mighty Mac
Sweeney has also been instrumental in MSU’s current road sensor project under the Mackinac Bridge. Working with Nizar Lajnef, associate professor of civil engineering, 20 prototype infrastructure sensors powered solely by vibrations from traffic were installed on the underside of the bridge in 2016.

Lajnef said the sensors have proven their durability and performance in the first phase of this first-in-the-country sensor installation. Now his team and researchers from Washington University in St. Louis are ready to install up to 2,000 more devices to explore the logistics of a large-scale deployment that will provide useful monitoring data on the bridge’s infrastructure and use. (See: Sensing structural integrity)

“This research could ultimately improve the serviceability of bridges,” Lajnef explained. “I am grateful for Bob’s help and wish him well in the next step of his career.”

Sweeney, and his wife, Maureen – also a 1986 civil engineering graduate of MSU – will be moving to Florida where he will lead the Department of Public Works for the City of Port St. Lucie. Maureen also retired on May 17, following a 33-year career at MDOT.

Sweeney said being responsible for a state treasure like the Mighty Mac was “an amazing experience” -- and more than just a job.

“Michigan is clearly envied for the talent, professionalism and efficacy of the work we perform in-house,” he said. “Everyone treats this bridge as if it is their own, and it is!”

For more on Sweeney’s 30-plus years as an engineer, read this story courtesy of the Mackinac Bridge Authority.

The Mackinac Bridge is the one of the world's most beautiful bridges and the longest suspension bridge in the Americas at 8,614 feet suspended.
The Mackinac Bridge is the one of the world's most beautiful bridges and the longest suspension bridge in the Americas at 8,614 feet suspended.