Here at UDOT we’re proud of the innovative work our employees do to help, not just Utah get around, but the entire world. Recently one of our bridge engineers took part in a humanitarian trip to help a population in Central America better their transportation needs.
Josh Sletten has worked for UDOT as a structural engineer for seven years, but says it was exciting to get back to the basics of bridge building.
Josh spent 12 days this past April in the Central American jungle as part of Bridges to Prosperity. The non-profit humanitarian group has built 185 bridges in 17 different countries. The goal is to give communities the lifeline they desperately need.
“There’s this little community out there,” said Josh of the site. “The Lura River runs right through the community, separates a lot of people from the school.”
About 500 people live in the small community, and rely on the bridge to get to the main part of town. Josh was part of a 12-person team tasked with dismantling the rickety wood bridge and building a 51m (167.3ft.) long suspension bridge.
The group was made up of volunteers from several different engineering groups. Josh was the only one representing UDOT. He was invited by The National Steel Bridge Alliance to participate in the bridge building expedition.
“We had no two people from the same company,” said Josh. “We had one person from all of these different entities and we all came together and it was a fantastic way of doing it. You had to build relationships and a team on the fly.”
Josh worked as the logistics manager for the group, meaning he had to figure out transportation, lodging, food and finances. But everyone was involved in constructing the bridge.
He said it was an amazing experience getting back to the roots of engineering. He’s spent years in an office, planning on a computer. This project forced the team to be innovative, even making their own tools.=
“I love to be out on the construction site,” said Josh. “Get your hands dirty and kind of unplug and disconnect a little bit.”
Josh uses a level to check the alignment of the suspension bridge.
Josh said suspension bridges have always been one of his favorites. There’s a lot of precision that goes into getting the arcs just right to support the weight of the bridge.
About 250 people showed up at the project’s completion to see the finished bridge and expressed their gratitude for the project.
“It was very well received,” said Josh. ”It’s rewarding. We didn’t speak Spanish, most of us, and they didn’t speak English, but just expressed their appreciation in whatever way they could.”
Josh said the experience is one that had a strong impact on him and others. They’ve all decided it’s something they’d like to do again.
Josh with some of the local school children who rely on the Lura bridge to get to school.
The new suspension bridge spans 52 meters (about 167 ft.) across the Lura River in Panama.