The engineer behind Portland’s newest bridge hopes to change the face of Oregon engineering and design, one contract at a time. Not the stereotypical engineer, Marcela Alcantar oversees construction of Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People. The newest bridge spanning the Willamette since the Fremont’s construction in 1973, Tilikum Crossing will open to light rail service in September.
“I believe the backbone for everything is transportation, that’s why it creates opportunities,” Alcantar told OPB. “And If opportunities stagnate at one single point families also suffer because employees don’t get time at home and so forth.”
Originally from San Luis Potosí, Mexico, Alcantar faced a rough childhood away from her mother, who left home to pick corn in the United States.
“When it came time to become a girl, it was difficult,” Alcantar told Portland Monthly. “I was a troubled girl with a stigma of not going anywhere. I was expected to be just like my mother.”
Instead, Alcantar persevered to rise above her circumstances. She moved to Colorado, where she joined a dance company and earned a degree in civil engineering.
“I had to study three times harder than anyone else, because of the language barrier,” she said.
While raising a daughter of her own, Alcantar started her own business: engineering design firm Alcantar and Associates. Alcantar’s firm worked a series of TriMet contracts totaling $4 million, including work on the Tilikum Crossing.
“I would just stay late, do anything that was needed, and be willing to help in any way possible,” Alcantar recalled of working on the firm’s first contracts.
Still running her engineering design firm, Alcantar also heads up the Diversified Builders and Engineers Council. The group strives to involve minorities in the fields of architectural design and engineering, something Alcantar remains passionate about.
“I’m ahead of my time,” she said. “I see how it needs to be, and I constantly have to be bumping heads with people who don’t see it.”
Thriving in her field, Alcantar hopes to inspire children to work towards their goals despite social stigmas and hardship.
“The next generation of little girls and leaders from my community are what really drive me,” Alcantar said. “To make it better for my people, to give back to them—I can live on that idea. That’s what makes me dream.”
A dream already made tangible, as her now grown daughter followed in Alcantar’s footsteps to become an engineer.
Photo by Portland Monthly