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Building a Lifeline in Panama

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff engineers served on a Bridges to Prosperity team to assist residents of Lura, Panama, in building a footbridge to connect Lura to its neighboring communities.


Lura residents crossing bridge developed by Bridges to Prosperity team.A newly constructed bridge serves as a lifeline for the residents of Lura, a rural village in the Coclé province of Panama. Living off the land without electricity or running water and traveling on horseback or by foot, the residents of Lura were cut off from surrounding communities with the annual flooding of the Lura River.

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff engineers Theodore (Tad) Molas and Adrian Moon worked with a public/private team of Bridges to Prosperity (B2P) volunteers to construct a much-needed footbridge over the impassable Lura River. Along with local residents and B2P’s in-country staff the volunteers assembled, erected and connected the 167-foot long suspension bridge during a recent two-week trip to Panama. The new infrastructure now allows residents to cross the river safely and provides access to medical care, commerce and education.

“The community did a lot of work to prepare the site months in advance before the volunteers arrived, digging holes and excavating for the deadman anchors and the foundation, and harvesting the bridge’s wood decking from trees on site and cutting it to size,” said Molas. In terms of the effort and sacrifice, it was primarily the community members and B2P staffers at the forefront, with our team providing the finishing touches and helping to take it across the finish line.”

The volunteer team, along with B2P staffers and locals atop the newly completed suspension bridge.

The volunteer team, along with B2P staffers and locals atop the newly completed suspension bridge.

Based on plans provided by the B2P design team, Adrian Moon built a virtual model of the project to aid in the design and construction effort.“It was a privilege for us engineers to travel to Lura, and a real genuine experience meeting and getting to know the locals and working hand-in-hand with them,” Moon added. He produced 3D models of the bridge design using BrIM (Bridge Information Modeling), which he provided to the team members prior to the project to help them visualize the plans. B2P is looking to include the models in its construction manual for future projects. Moon also served as the project videographer. He brought WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff’s drone to Lura to capture aerial footage of the construction site.


Besides Molas and Moon, the team comprised volunteers from four state DOTs including Colorado and Utah; CH2M; Hirschfeld Industries LP; HDR, Inc.; National Steel Bridge Alliance, Inc.; and Utah Pacific Bridge and Steel.

The bridge’s opening was celebrated at an event organized by the residents, where they put on performances for the volunteers, showing a great deal of excitement and appreciation for the new infrastructure. An official ribbon-cutting ceremony was held, and all the children walked across the bridge followed by the rest of the community.

It’s not just about building, it’s about transferring knowledge. The maintenance of the bridge is all on the community, so it was important to the volunteers to teach them the maintenance fundaments in case there needs to be repairs. The hope of course is that the bridge remains standing to serve the community for decades to come.

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff Volunteers:

Tad Molas has 18 years’ experience in the transportation industry, with a primary focus on bridge design. He has been with WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff for 16 years and is the mountain region leader of the firm’s Structural Technical Excellence Center. Molas has served as project manager and deputy project manager on several large bridge projects which required the assemblage of bridge design teams from multiple offices throughout the country.

Adrian Moon has more than 23 years of experience in public engagement, concept development and project visualization. He has been with WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff for the last 19 years, currently serving as senior pursuit manager for the transportation sector. Moon has worked on a wide variety of highway and bridge projects, helping owners, stakeholders and the community-at-large conceptualize infrastructure projects and bring their visions to life.

About WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff:

WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, one of the world's leading engineering and professional services consulting firms, provides services designed to transform the built environment and restore the natural one. The firm’s expertise ranges from environmental remediation and urban planning, to engineering iconic buildings and designing sustainable transport networks, to developing the energy sources of the future and enabling new ways of extracting essential resources. Approximately 34,000 employees, including engineers, technicians, scientists, architects, planners, surveyors, program and construction management professionals, as well as various environmental experts, work for this dynamic organization in more than 500 offices across 40 countries worldwide. www.wsp-pb.com.

About Bridges to Prosperity:

B2P envisions a world where poverty caused by rural isolation no longer exists. They work with isolated communities to create access to essential economic, educational and health care opportunities by building footbridges over impassable rivers. Through local engagement, from regional governments to members of each partner community, B2P is committed to a sustainable model that puts the focus on people and the opportunities that make it possible for them to thrive. In 2016, B2P will build 40 new footbridges, increasing the overall total to more than 200 bridges and raising their cumulative impact to one million people worldwide. To learn more about B2P, how you can become a volunteer or industry partner, or to support their mission visit www.bridgestoprosperity.org/what-you-can-do.