Parsons give back by building much-needed footbridge in Colombia



Parsons Corp. is known for building big things.

The Pasadena-based engineering and design firm is currently completing the pre-design of a regional plant in Chino that will produce up to 30 million gallons of high-quality recycled water a day for use in Chino and surrounding communities.

On the other side of the globe, Parsons is managing the Abu Dhabi International Airport expansion, an ambitious program that will increase the airport’s capacity to 27 million passengers by 2017.

Big projects, to be sure.

But as impressive as those are, a much smaller undertaking has resonated more deeply with the company.

Parsons recently partnered with the nonprofit organization Bridges to Prosperity to build a 190-foot suspension bridge over the La Guaya River near Bogota, Colombia. The river has been notoriously impassable in bad weather, often requiring locals to take a two-hour detour to access markets, schools and medical services.

In late August, Parsons sent an 11-member team of its infrastructure and construction experts to La Guaya, a small town of about 1,000 people, to do the work.

Working alongside Bridges to Prosperity, local nonprofit partner Puentes de la Esperanza and residents from the area, the structure was built. Parsons donated its manpower and all of the needed materials for free through its “Parsons Gives Back Program,” which supports educational, cultural and civic organizations in the communities where its employees live and work.

The La Guaya bridge was built at no cost to the community.

“Our team erected the pylons, all the suspension cables, the hangers and the fencing for the bridge,” said Elie Homsi, Parson’s senior vice president of construction. “That river floods quite a bit and it’s very rapid water. People could not cross it when it rained. It was flooding every day when we were there.”

Needless to say, the bridge has made a difference.

“Of all of the projects we’ve been involved with, this is one of the ones we’re most proud of,” Homsi said. “We built it with our own hands and it’s had a real impact on the community. It’s improved their lives quite a bit.”

Homsi said the bridge has created an increased level of mobility for the region that has boosted its economy by 40 to 50 percent.

“People can now go to school year round and go to the market year round,” he said.

Bridges to Prosperity is dedicated to providing isolated communities with access to essential healthcare, education and economic opportunities by building footbridges over impassible rivers.

Brandon Johnson, director of programs for the Denver-based organization, said his agency has built more than 200 bridges in 20 developing countries around the world.

“When rivers flood it can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days for the water to go back down,” he said. “And that’s assuming you don’t get more rain in the meantime.”

Johnson said flooding rivers can cause significant disruption to a local economy.

“It can block access to schools and medical treatment,” he said. “And if someone needs to get to the market to sell their beans or fresh fruit and vegetables and you can’t get across the river … it can be bad.”

Parsons has completed more than 4,500 bridges around the world. Joanne McCall, the company’s senior vice president and executive sponsor for the team, put the La Guaya bridge project into perspective.

“This small footbridge will have a profound and immediate impact on the lives of a remote community, which is a humbling reminder that contributing our skills and expertise makes a real difference,” she said in a statement. “The team was very excited to be a part of this build.”


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