Get to know the town: Engineer Barry Benton

Barry Benton, Delaware Department of Transportation’s chief bridge engineer, was recognized in February as the engineer of the year for 2015 by the Delaware Engineering Society. He is seen here with his family and US-Senator Tom Carper. Special to The Chronicle

Barry Benton, Delaware Department of Transportation’s chief bridge engineer, was recognized in February as the engineer of the year for 2015 by the Delaware Engineering Society. He is seen here with his family and US-Senator Tom Carper. Special to The Chronicle

Name: Barry Benton

Age: 45-years-old

Occupation: Delaware Department of Transportation chief bridge engineer

Hometown: Milford

Education background: 1988 Milford Senior High School graduate, Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Delaware in 1992.

Tell us about the engineer of the year award?

“I was recognized as the engineer of the year for 2015. The award came from the Delaware Engineering Society in February of this year. It’s a very big deal for engineers.”

Tell us about your job?

“I have been at DelDOT since 1992 right out of college. I oversee bridge inspections. A lot of people don’t realize this, but we have over 1,600 bridges in the state. We also do load ratings and process somewhere around 300 permits a month for overweight vehicles. We inspect sign structures, traffic signals and dams to name just a couple of things. I have 33 people who work under me.

“I just want to say how much I love my job. Ensuring the safety of our over 1,600 bridges carries a big burden, but there is a lot of reward. We have one of the best bridge inventories in the nation, and that is due to the asset management program that we have had in place for decades. Every time we repair or replace a bridge, it is something that will be there for the next 75 to 100 years.

“Each bridge helps connect communities and investment in infrastructure improves the economy. Some bridges are landmark structures that people enjoy, but most go unnoticed, that is, at least until they are no longer in service. My job is to keep them in a state of good repair so that they can serve our constituents and get people to where they need to be. I also enjoy working with our local and national lawmakers, other State Bridge Engineers and researchers to bring the best practices back to Delaware.

What project are you working on right now?

“Right now we are working on a number of bridges that will use innovative Accelerated Bridge Construction techniques to replace or repair bridges much quicker than traditional methods to inconvenience the traveling public less. These use prefabricated components and are put together like legos. Our first major ABC job will be later this year on I-95 over SR 1.”

What do you think led to the award?

“I think a lot came from actions we did as a team in 2014. We had to shut down I-495 upstate. The bridge was damaged by a contractor that put a lot of dirt next to bridge. That bridge sees 90,000 cars a day and there’s just no other place for those 90,000 to go. I mean, calls went to the governor of Delaware and all the other states immediately. It was the hardest professional day of my life.

“We canceled summer vacations. I was on lock-down that summer. It was working from sun-up to sun-down. We never stopped working on the bridge. But we really performed well. There was literally someone working 24-hours a day/7-days a week all summer long.

“We got a lot of press for that. Even the president came to see the bridge. It’s the biggest thing I’ve accomplished in my award. So I think, even though it was for 2015, I think it stemmed from our actions in 2014.”

Tell us about the award ceremony?

“Over 200 people were in attendance. Scholarships were awarded to students, as well as a young engineer of the year. Then came the engineer of the year. During the ceremony, I gave a speech. Senator Carper was there and spoke as well. He’s a regular attendee of the banquet. That guy is everywhere. I got to introduce him to my family.

“I received a plaque and a certificate from the society. Representatives Harvey Kenton and Dave Wilson came up. I’m not in either one of their districts, but I’ve known them a lot from work. So I really appreciated that. I received a letter from the Delaware legislature commending me for the honor and a letter from Tom Carper. It was really nice evening.”

It sounds like your job can become very busy?

“My wife is awesome. She’s always been there to support me. I enjoy getting involved in the national committees because we’re a small state. We sometimes don’t have the same opportunities as other states to study and research. So I travel to bring home new ideas. She has an accounting degree and a Master’s degree in business administration from UD, but she chose to stay at home with our family and now also works part-time at a preschool. She’s been the pillar. She’s always there to make sure the kids go where they need to go. She helps me be successful.”

What are your hobbies?

“My wife and I like to travel and go to the beach. I love to run trails up by Blair’s Pond. And biking: I like to bike to my office in Dover. We’ve been involved in the kids’ activities. Our son is in baseball, so I’ve coached little league since he was 8-years-old on up until senior league. Our daughter plays field hockey and swims, but I don’t know much about that so I don’t coach those.”

What would you like the community to know?

“I think the one thing that I would like to stress is that although it was an individual award, it was not achieved individually. I’ve got a terrific team of engineers that work for me. I view myself as the captain of the boat. I kind of turn the boat in the right direction but in the end, it’s the work that the team does. Although I’m very honored by it, I feel like the credit goes to my entire staff. It’s absolutely true. A lot of people have different perceptions of DelDOT, but I can tell you that the people I know here in my section, they take a lot of pride in their work. And it does show.”

Jennifer Antonik can be reached at mc@newszap.com

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