Idaho Transportation Department Bridge Engineer Alan Buehrig will be traveling to Panama March 16th for two weeks to participate in the Bridges to Prosperity program. Buehrig's group will build a steel 100-foot suspension bridge to connect a portion of the community with the outside roadway.
“The bridge will provide safe pedestrian access across the Rio Tuancle River (from one side of the community to the other) year-round, which is especially important during the rainy season when the river swells dramatically,” said ITD spokesman Reed Hollinshead.
The bridge is being built in El Macho, a small spread-out village of some 300 people, about 200 miles west of Panama City.
Building the bridges over impassable rivers in isolated communities creates access for residents to school, markets, health clinics, and greater economic opportunity.
“This is a unique opportunity to contribute to the Bridges to Prosperity program’s extraordinary mission,” Buehrig said. "I chose to become a civil engineer out of a desire to build meaningful infrastructure that directly improves people’s lives, and this definitely fits those goals.
“I also hope to broaden my knowledge of other cultures and to become a better engineer through working side by side with others across the bridge industry,” he said.
B2P's founder, Ken Frantz, started the nonprofit organization in 2001 after seeing a photo in National Geographic of folks in war-torn Ethiopia struggling to get access to needed services by crossing the Blue Nile River.
“B2P personnel are already on site, working with the local community to build the foundations. A few community volunteers are already working on it. It is B2P's goal is to complete these projects in collaboration with the local communities,” Hollinshead said.
Alan will be the Safety Officer on the project. A group of about ten people also are going -- from other departments of transportation, representing private-engineering firms, contractors, and fabricators.
In 2017, the NSBA (National Steel Bridge Alliance) gave a presentation to the ITD Bridge section about the program, and encouraged interested volunteers to reach out to NSBA. Buehrig was intrigued, so he contacted the group and offered to help out.