Building Bridges from Seattle to Panama

At PCL, employees are encouraged to give back in ways that inspire them. For nearly 30 years, employees of PCL’s Transportation Infrastructure Group​​ have been providing safe, reliable, and quality bridge rehabilitations and replacements to communities across the United States. When the opportunity arose to use their career knowledge by volunteering with Bridges to Prosperity​​, an organization that builds footbridges for impoverished communities, PCL employees did not hesitate.

Local children cross the newly constructed bridge,
which will provide them a safe method of
transportation to school and healthcare.

A resident crosses the original Los Cañones, Bridge.

PCL raised the towers for the new bridge.

The project team consisted of Patrick Malone,
Bryant Helvey, Curtis Earl, Gary Fenton, Brooke
VanderLinden, and T.Y.Lin.

“I build bridges for a living, so to volunteer and help a community build a footbridge that enables kids to have safe access to schools and medical services was a no-brainer,” said Gary Fenton, project superintendent with PCL Civil Constructors, Inc. in Seattle.
For their most recent project, Bridges to Prosperity was in need of engineers to build a cable suspension footbridge to replace an improvised bridge crossing made up of intertwined tree trunks that the community of Los Cañones, Panama, was using to travel over a deep ravine to get to school and work. Employees from PCL Civil Constructors, Inc. donated their own vacation days and paid for their own travel, food, and accommodations in order to help the organization construct a safer bridge for the deserving community.

All Hands on Deck

Before arriving at the site of the new bridge, the team knew they would have to complete the project using locally sourced materials with limited access to common tools and machinery. Though many of the PCL employees had not built a bridge in this type of remote environment before, the team knew if they stuck to their bridge-building basics, the bridge would be completed successfully.
Prior to arriving in Panama, PCL and its corporate partner for the project, T.Y. Lin International, reviewed the project plan and Bridges to Prosperity’s suspended bridge design manual. Next, PCL developed logistics, construction, and safety plans to deliver a smooth project. As with all PCL projects, the team began each day with a review of the day’s activities, hazards associated with working in the remote tropical location, and stretch and flex before moving on to constructing the bridge. The team then bent 96 pieces of rebar, raised the towers and suspension cables, and installed the bridge deck for the 44 meter bridge entirely by hand.
“Understanding what materials are on-site, what has been completed, and what materials are needed is important to successfully completing any project, especially when the entire project is intended to be completed start-to-finish in two weeks,” said Curtis Earl, project engineer, PCL Civil Constructors, Inc. in Seattle. 

A Safer Crossing

With aid from community volunteers who worked side-by-side with PCL, the newly completed bridge provides residents with a safe and reliable way to travel to school, work, and health-care facilities.  
Reflecting on the week’s experiences, Patrick Malone, manager of business development for PCL Civil Constructors, Inc., said “The entire project team was so encouraged and enthused by the experience, everyone is ready to go build another bridge.”

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