Sue Tryon grew up visiting job sites with her father, a structural engineer. And while those visits sparked her interest in architecture and engineering, it was an eighth-grade drafting class and algebra class that cemented her career direction.
“I thought I would become an architect from drafting class,” Tryon said, “but architects don’t use nearly enough algebra, so I decided to become an engineer.”
Tryon now is an engineering manager and project manager for Benham, a Haskell Company. In nearly 30 years with Benham, she has helped build a strong bridge-engineering team in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
She and her team have worked on many complicated and well-known projects varying from reinforced concrete box designs to skewed, curved and flared structures using steel plate or steel tub girders.
One of her first projects for Benham was designing a hydropower plant in Southeast Arkansas. It was built beside an existing dam and rerouted a portion of the Arkansas River through the plant to generate power for the entire region. The walls were 8 feet thick, and the design included 60-foot-wide by 60-foot-tall beams.
“It was off the charts, and awesome,” she said. The beams were designed to become self-supporting after several lifts of concrete were poured, allowing the falsework to be removed to provide better access for the remaining construction.
Another notable project was the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Truss Bridge over I-235 in Oklahoma City, a structure that carries trains over a highway with more than 115,000 vehicles a day. That job won an Engineering News-Record award for Bridge Project of the Year. Recently, the project also won the Oklahoma Grand Conceptor Award from the American Council of Engineering Companies. The current construction phase of this corridor involves Oklahoma’s first four-level interchange and has the highest construction dollar value in state history, a record that Benham has been a part of several times.
Tryon and colleagues taking a break during truss move-in day, a weekend Tryon considers to be one of the most significant weekends of her life.
In fact, Tryon has had her hand in a few of the most prominent highway interchanges and bridges in Oklahoma. This includes the I-40 Crosstown East Interchange, which is the entrance to the gateway of Downtown Oklahoma City.
She said that project was interesting because the original interchange was completed by Benham in the 1980s.
“It was like night and day,” she said. “The original designs were a mix of hand-drafting and the earliest days of computer drafting, and now we’re using advanced 3D-CAD (Computer-Aided Design). It was just neat to see how we have expanded on CAD.”
Tryon’s most recent project is the rehabilitation of the Pensacola Dam Bridge in Northeast Oklahoma, which was originally built in 1940. It’s a mile-long bridge on the top of a dam, and it’s also the longest bridge in the entire state of Oklahoma. We are getting ready to begin an interchange in the west side of Tulsa, with three fly-over bridges. This interchange is US-75 and I-44.
Many of her more recent projects are with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, where she began her career. The state selects the Benham team, she said, for some of the more complicated designs and geometry among the ODOT projects.
“We are very, very aware of the need for safety,” she said. “Bridge designs have to be right because they carry so much load and people’s lives depend on it--you can’t have a failure. All the pieces also have to fit up correctly to make construction go smoothly. A bridge is going to be there for 75 years — you can’t have mistakes.”
Since joining Benham, Tryon has seen myriad changes in the industry and within the company itself. In 2016, Haskell acquired Benham, previously known as Leidos Constructors and Leidos Engineering. The acquisition led to organizational efficiencies and provided valuable professional resources.
“It has been good to be part of Haskell because we are so much more integrated than we have been,” she said. “We truly feel we are an integral part of Haskell. Also we benefit from the focus Haskell places on developing people and leadership skills, providing the training necessary for each individual to succeed.”
Right: Tryon and Benham colleagues at Mt. Rushmore on an evening tour during the WASHTO Conference.