HDR’s Curt McDonald Joins Bridges to Prosperity Panama Team

First-of-its-kind team of public, private and industry association volunteers brings new infrastructure to a remote location.

On April 9, HDR bridge engineer Curt McDonald, SE will be joining 10 other industry professionals as part of an all-volunteer team of bridge experts traveling to rural Panama to construct a 168-foot (51 meter) footbridge. Bridges to Prosperity (B2P), a non-profit organization that builds footbridges in isolated communities around the world, has traditionally worked with teams of volunteers from a single organization. The group going to Lura, in Churuquita Grande, Coclé, Panama, is made up of private, public and industry association members.

Between April 9 and 22, this diverse team will work together with local residents to replace an existing bridge with a new, safer structure to connect roughly 500 people living in Lura to essential services that become inaccessible during the rainy season. Along with enabling safer travel to health care, jobs and markets, the new suspension bridge will also make it possible for nearly 200 children to continue to attend school when the river rises. 

“We’ve been planning this for a couple months. I’m excited to get there, meet the people and build this bridge,” said McDonald. “I appreciate HDR’s support of this project. It will be great to share my bridge-building knowledge with the Lura volunteers and help build infrastructure that will have such a crucial impact on their daily lives.” McDonald will serve as the team’s communications manager and occasional interpreter as the only Spanish-speaking member of the team.

In addition to McDonald, the B2P Lura Panama team volunteers include Jeff Carlson (National Steel Bridge Alliance); Rafael Davis, PE (Arizona DOT); Jonathan Hirschfeld (Hirschfeld Industries LP); Mike Keever, PE; Jessica Martinez, PE (Colorado DOT); Theodore (Tad) Molas PE and Adrian Moon (WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff); Nate Neilson (Utah Pacific Bridge and Steel); John Rohner, PE (CH2M HILL) and Josh Sletten, SE (Utah DOT).

The Lura footbridge and other B2P projects serve as a training ground for local foremen and superintendents working toward B2P local builder certification. This helps support the development of resident bridge builders who can continue to assist with regional infrastructure projects long after the team has returned home.

The Panama Experience

Prior to departure, the team coordinated with B2P staff and Lura community members who were already hard at work removing the old bridge, preparing the bridge site and building the substructure. Once in Panama City, the 11 volunteers will make the four-hour trek to Lura, where they will offer their labor and bridge-building skills. The team will then have to set up camp for their two-week stay. Not only will they be living in tents, but they will also have to contend with the fact that in Lura running water, electricity and cellphone service are rare or non-existent commodities.

Meals will be prepared by locals, but with no way to keep food fresh, one or two team members will have to make the one-hour journey to the closest town, Penonomé, every couple of days to restock groceries. While in town, they will also try to charge electronic devices and use the internet to connect with friends, family and co-workers back home.

The work week will be Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. unless schedule requires working through Sunday as well. Safety is paramount, and HDR safety equipment provider DXP Enterprises - Midcontinent Safety donated more than $1,500 in hard hats, safety vests and other personal protective equipment to keep both the team and local volunteers safe during the build.

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

About HDR’s Bridges & Structures Practice

We have a passion for all types of bridges, and offer every bridge-related service you can think of and a few you might not. We work on some of the largest and most complex bridge programs in the United States, including leading the Hoover Dam Bypass design team, winner of the prestigious 2012 ACEC Grand Conceptor Award; serving as lead designer for both the New NY Bridge replacing the Tappan Zee and the Pennsylvania Rapid Bridge Replacement Program public-private partnership; and co-managing the Oregon Transportation Investment Act III Bridge Delivery Program.

About HDR

HDR has partnered with clients to shape communities and push the boundaries of what's possible since 1917. We specialize in engineering, architecture, environmental and construction services. With nearly 10,000 employees in more than 225 locations around the world, we think global and act local.