Author: Lorella Angelini, Angelini Consulting Services, LLC
Some time ago I published a post about the initiative taken by Joshua Sletten, Utah DOT, who traveled to Lura, Panama to help build a pedestrian suspension bridge with the “Bridges to Prosperity” organization.
I met Joshua at the recent AASHTO Subcommittee on Bridges and Structures (SCOBS) annual meeting in Minneapolis, MN, where I live. Joshua, an expert on bridge preservation, sits on the AASHTO SCOBS technical committee T-9 “Bridge Preservation” that is chaired by Bruce Johnson with Oregon DOT.
I had a brief conversation with Joshua about his experience in Panama.
Was the goal accomplished? Did the construction of the suspended pedestrian bridge in Panama go as planned?
Yes, the goal was fully accomplished. We actually completed the bridge a little faster than we had scheduled. We had planned to complete the project in 12 days, and we finished after 8. We also finished under budget. I think everybody was pretty happy with it.
We worked well together as a team. We brought in local community members that helped us build the entire bridge. We had translators to help with language differences. Everybody played their part well.
What was your role in the project?
I was the logistic manager, in charge of getting everybody to the bridge at the scheduled time. I also managed transportation, arranging meals and lodging in Panama City.
What stands out in your memory about this experience?
The biggest thing for me was connecting with people, the volunteers that traveled to Lura, Panama to help build the bridge and the local community. I also had a great time playing with the local children. After work, we played kickball, softball and football. I even taught the kids how to throw a Frisbee.
I will surely remember the inauguration day, when we played music during a traditional jam.
The other big thing that stands out to me is having been able to build a bridge that was desperately needed by the community. The bridge will serve the community for generations to come. This is what makes me proud to be an engineer. I am definitively going to remember this.
Would you recommend this experience to other engineers?
I learned a lot from this experience. I arrived to the bridge location, deep in the Panamanian jungle, got unplugged from all the technology and started working with a team that was motivated and like-minded to build a 150 ft. long suspension bridge in a short amount of time.
It was a memorable, once in a lifetime experience that I highly recommend to anyone.
Obviously, one has to overcome some challenges, like staying in a tent, doing hard work and labor with your hands, and not being afraid of sun exposure or getting attacked by mosquitoes.
How long did you stay in Panama?
I was there for two weeks. When I got there the local community had already completed the foundation. The entire bridge, from inception to inauguration, took approximately three months to build.
Will there be any preservation activity for the bridge that you helped build?
We spoke at length with the local people, who are very proud of the bridge, about the importance of proper bridge maintenance. We wanted to reinforce the concept that in order to keep the bridge in a state they can be proud of for years to come, it has to be well maintained. We talked to them about how to replace the planks when they begin to wear out. We showed them how to maintain or replace other critical elements of the bridge.