In 2010, he made headlines when -- armed with a laser-based precision measuring device -- he outed owners of the highest bridge in the U.S. -- Colorado's Royal Gorge Bridge. The laser measurement proved the bridge wasn't as high as advertised. Since the 1920s it had been billed as being 1,053 feet high. Sakowski marked it at 955. "I kind of shook things up a bit there," Sakowski admitted.
Drivers are required to cruise across the bridge, suspended above a canyon cut by the Arkansas River, at just 5 mph. Even at that speed, "the bridge moves and shakes," Sakowski says. "It's scary because of the wood planks. You get the feeling that one of them might give way and the car will get stuck there."
A wildfire last June burned much of the theme park surrounding the bridge, forcing the park to close for repairs. The bridge survived the fire "relatively unscathed," the parks services says, and it reportedly could reopen later this year, at the soonest.
For other bridge aficionados, mere climbing doesn't cut it. Bigger thrills come from jumping. Mechanical engineer Jason Bell has been BASE jumping off the nation's third-highest bridge -- the New River Gorge Bridge near Fayetteville, West Virginia, for 20 years.
An image of the bridge might be in your pocket right now. It's pictured on the back of West Virginia's version of U.S. state quarters.
Parachuting off the 876-foot-high steel structure feels "like a roller coaster -- or going over a bump in a fast-moving car," says Bell, 42. "It's a weightless feeling where your stomach is turning and you're flying like a bird."
Each year on the third Saturday in October, tens of thousands of bridge fans travel from around the world to celebrate Bridge Day, when the bridge is closed to traffic and 450 jumpers are allowed to take a giant leap into the New River below.
"I have developed a connection with that bridge," says Bell, who's been helping to organize the event since 2002. "I'm a mechanical engineer so I can appreciate its beauty and the technical know-how that actually went into building the bridge." "I'd be devastated if that bridge were no longer. It seems like it's a part of me, to some degree."
Sakowski is considering bungee jumping from a newly built bridge in Mexico when it officially opens later this year. With its road deck 1,280 feet above the ground, according to Sakowski's measurements, the Baluarte Bicentennial Bridge is the highest bridge in North America. More records are expected to fall soon, Sakowski says, as China is expected to complete two new super-high bridges in 2016 and 2017.
The United States has seen a golden age of magnificent bridges built since the 1930s, O'Donnell says, and now the nation will likely focus on maintenance. Transportation and civil engineering groups have been warning for years about the consequences of neglecting U.S. bridges. The average age of all U.S. bridges is 42 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which says one out of every nine bridges is structurally deficient.
One of those bridges is the 85-year-old Goethals Bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York's Staten Island.
Goethals' lanes, Sakowski says, are squeezed so "you're right up against the barrier. You barely have enough room" to drive as the edge of the bridge looms so close, he says. "You kind of get a sense of queasiness." A $1.5 billion replacement for Goethals Bridge is expected to be finished in 2017.
Also slated for replacement is New York state's longest bridge, the three-mile Tappan Zee Bridge, crossing the Hudson River about 13 miles north of New York City. The replacement for the 58-year-old structure is expected to open in 2018. Meantime, the bridge website asks and answers its own question: "Is the bridge safe? Absolutely."
Colorado has taken steps to replace its dangerous bridges by funding a program funded by vehicle registration fees.
And in Northern California, the long and expensive effort to replace the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge appears to be nearly done. After 11 years and billions of dollars, opening of the 2-mile project is finally scheduled for September 3.
Millions of travelers depend upon these truly awesome structures everyday -- and for O'Donnell, that's what ranks them among our most important feats of engineering.
"They're the ultimate expression on the achievements of the human race," he says. "Bridges -- unlike most buildings -- are meant to be used by everyone. Not only do they connect people, but they don't discriminate."