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Idaho's Johnson Leads State as Newest Bridge Engineer

Wed February 22, 2023 - West Edition #5
Idaho Transportation Department

Michael Johnson
(Photo courtesy of Idaho Transportation Department.)
Michael Johnson (Photo courtesy of Idaho Transportation Department.)

Longtime ITD Bridge employee Michael Johnson was named as the new State Bridge Engineer. He replaces Matt Farrar in the position, who retired in October after 25 years in the job and 36 years overall at the department.

Johnson most recently served as a design group leader in the bridge section. He graduated from Idaho State University in 1991, then began accumulating more than 30 years of bridge-design experience. He started his career in ITD's engineer-in-training program, before joining the Bridge Section in April 1992. As an EIT, Johnson spent two years in District 3, six months in HQ Materials and the remaining time in the Bridge Section.

Johnson then took a hiatus from ITD to lead a bridge section for a consulting firm (HDR) from 2003 until July 2018. He returned to ITD a month later to get more opportunities to design bridges in Idaho and spend more time with his wife, Kim.

"I needed a better work/life balance," Johnson explained.

He and Kim have two grown sons — Zak (an engineer for ITD in District 5) and Parker. In addition to working as an engineer, he served 12 years in the U.S. Army reserves (1990-2002), rising to the rank of Captain; and has coached high school football for the last 13 years. He has been coaching football at Nampa Christian High School since 2010 and is currently the varsity special teams coordinator, receivers coach and assistant coach.

"With my new position, I may need to give up some of those duties, but I am fortunate to be able to continue coaching," Johnson said.

Johnson's hobbies include mountain biking, running, coaching, traveling with his wife and spending time with his family.

Johnson answered a few questions:

Q: What are the goals and challenges you anticipate for this new position?

A: Goals: "The ITD Bridge Section staff is excellent and I am honored to be a part of this team. I want to give the staff the opportunity to work on the projects that interest them. We have some exciting project opportunities coming up in the next few years, including the Rainbow Bridge replacement. Giving our section the opportunity to work on this project and other high profile projects is exciting to me.

I also want to continue to integrate the Bridge Design with the bridge asset management section. In the past, these sections have worked mostly independently, even though these sections are both in Bridge. Over the past few years, we have been cross training staff to give the staff well rounded experience. Load-rating staff has been given the opportunity to design bridge projects and design staff has been helping with load ratings. I want to get to the point where staff can seamlessly help the other group if there is a need.

Johnson was well known in the national bridge community: I want to continue ITD's presence. I have been fortunate to gain important contacts with some of the leaders in the bridge industry through my work on a AASHTOWare Task Force and working with AASHTO Committee of Bridges and Structures. I want to continue to participate on the national level, as well as giving other ITD Bridge staff the same opportunities to work on national committees."

Challenges: "I have big shoes to fill. Matt Farrar has been the state bridge engineer for more than 25 years. His experience will be missed. He was well known throughout the state and national bridge engineering community. Changing the face of ITD Bridge Section from Matt Farrar to Mike Johnson may take time."

Johnson said the opportunity to help shape a new ITD Bridge section drove him to apply for the job.

Q: What made you want to tackle this new job?

A: "I enjoy mentoring younger staff. As the state bridge engineer, I will be in a position to provide mentorship to young engineers and technicians and provide opportunities and resources for them to grow and succeed.

"Also, this position gives me the opportunity to influence the direction of the bridge industry in Idaho and nationwide."

ITD Chief Highway Engineer Blake Rindlisbacher, who will supervise Johnson's new position, also is excited about the announcement.

"I'm excited to welcome Mike to his new role as State Bridge Engineer," he said. "Mike started his career with ITD more than 30 years ago, when he was a part of ITD's Engineer in Training program alongside [Division of Highways Construction & Operations Administrator] Dave Kuisti and I. He then worked as a consulting engineer for a number of years before returning to ITD. We are fortunate to have Mike on our team and I'm confident that Idaho will continue to deliver a high quality bridge program under his leadership."

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