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Man dies before he gets to see his ‘masterpiece’ bridge finished

Ken Clausen, left, and Camron Sobotka on the Broadway Bridge site earlier this year. Clausen, the lead designer on the new Broadway Bridge, died in March. The new bridge will open on Friday, Sept. 9.
Ken Clausen, left, and Camron Sobotka on the Broadway Bridge site earlier this year. Clausen, the lead designer on the new Broadway Bridge, died in March. The new bridge will open on Friday, Sept. 9. Eric Clausen

Ken Clausen’s last message to his family, sent the day he died, was a picture of the girders of the new Broadway Bridge.

That was an indication of how much the project meant to him, said his son Eric Clausen, now a pastor in California.

Clausen, 56, a supervisor for one of two Bridge Design groups at the Idaho Transportation Department, was the lead engineer on the Broadway Bridge project. He died suddenly of a heart aneurysm in March. He missed being able to celebrate the reopening of the bridge he considered the masterpiece of his long career in Idaho.

Boise's Broadway Bridge officially reopened Friday. The ceremony was timed to follow last-minute finishes on the bridge and ended with dignitaries pulling barriers and opening the project up to traffic. By 1 p.m., the bridge will be fully open wi

“As his co-workers can attest, he put a great deal of time and work into this design. This was his magnum opus. I would love Boise to know what a gift it has been given,” Eric said.

Camron Sobotka, a draftsman, worked with Clausen.

“Ken was an amazing mentor and teacher for ITD’s bridge staff and consultant community,” Sobotka said. Clausen had a gift when it came to conveying ideas. Colleagues often called upon him to solve problems, said Sobotka. Where some were afraid of complex math, Clausen reveled in it, showing off what his obituary described as his “elegant calculus formulas” and “explaining the finer points of bridge materials.”

“He sometimes joked that he was glad he was good at math, because he didn’t know what else he would do,” said Wendy Clausen, his widow. In fact, Clausen had many interests and talents, including photography and drawing, Wendy said. Designing bridges meshed all of his abilities. Clausen was also an outdoorsman who enjoyed climbing, hunting and rafting.

Crews have completed the foundation of the new Broadway Bridge and are building the deck. Construction of the bridge and road improvements to Broadway Avenue will continue through the summer. This video from the Idaho Transportation Department ex

“He believed bridges were historical landmarks and needed to be a work of art. Ken loved making Idaho beautiful through his bridge designs,” Sobotka said.

Clausen studied design and always included elements to enhance the way people experienced the designs he created. Clausen and Sobotka worked with the bridge team, which included Treasure Valley architect and artist Byron Folwell, to add special elements for walkers and bikers, not just cars, on the Broadway Bridge. One example: the belvederes, or viewing platforms, that bulb out over the Boise River on the new bridge.

Construction on the Broadway Bridge in Downtown Boise is expected until last until early fall. Here's the latest view of the progress.

Clausen was a Boise native, born at St. Luke’s Hospital. His father, Melvin, worked for the Bureau of Land Management, and the family left Idaho when Clausen was a child.

“But he swore he would come back,” said Eric.

Clausen did, returning to study at the University of Idaho. He spent his engineering career with the Idaho Department of Transportation, transferring to the Boise office in the mid-1980s. Besides the Broadway Bridge, Clausen worked on many other Idaho projects, including the Cole and Overland interchange, the Twin Bridge replacement near Declo and others.

In addition to the picture of the Broadway Bridge Clausen sent to his family the day he died, his last conversation with Wendy was also about bridges. Clausen had been part of a panel to select public art for a bridge in Ketchum.

“He called me to talk about it. He was so impressed with the process and with the professionalism of the artist,” she recalled.

As committed as he was to his own work, he admired others’ professionalism, Wendy added.

Check out this video, including new drone footage shot Monday by the Idaho Department of Transportation, about progress on the Broadway Bridge construction project. The bridge replacement will be completed this fall.

“Ken would often say how many different people would be calling the Broadway Bridge ‘their bridge,’” said Wendy. “He knew he had one part of the project, but that the inspectors, the contract workers and everybody along the line would have some ownership. And he was excited about that. ”

In addition to Eric, the Clausens have a daughter, Katie, and a son, Daniel. The family, including Ken’s and Wendy’s parents, will attend the public ceremony opening the bridge that’s scheduled for 10:30 a.m., Friday, Sept. 9, at the bridge.

Read Clausen’s obituary here.

Broadway Bridge ceremony

Join Idaho Transportation Department Director Brian Ness, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, Boise State University President Robert Kustra and other officials for the opening of the Broadway Avenue Bridge at 10:30 a.m. Friday, Sept. 9, on the bridge structure.

The ceremony is timed to follow last-minute finishes on the bridge and will end with dignitaries pulling barriers and opening the project up to traffic.

Limited parking for the event will be available at Julia Davis Park and Boise State University. ITD encourages people to walk or ride their bikes to the ceremony if possible.

By 1 p.m., the bridge will be fully open with three lanes in each direction across the structure; bicycle lanes on each side of the bridge; 10-foot wide sidewalks on each side of the bridge; north and south Greenbelt paths; all lanes of University Drive, Myrtle and Front Streets.

To learn more, visit ITD’s project website at itd.idaho.gov.

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