Norberto Odebrecht Construction of Brazil faced a challenge when Panama’s Ministry of Public Works awarded the contractor the Tocumen International Airport expansion project: Find a way to build new access bridges to the airport without closing the road. To accomplish this task, the contractor decided to weld the existing expansion joint on the road to the new one to be placed on the bridge. The existing joints, D.S. Brown’s SteelFlex System, were installed in 1999 and were still completely operational, despite a lack of maintenance.

Construction Stages

The first phase of the airport expansion project began in 2006 and included three stages: Expand the main passenger terminal by 224,200 square feet. Update boarding bridges, escalators, baggage processing systems, and flight control systems. And upgrade runways and rebuild the cargo terminal.

The second phase, known as Terminal Muelle Norte, cost about $60 million and included building a new terminal with 12 additional aircraft gates, bringing the total number of gates to 40.

The project is now in its third, and final, phase of expansion, known as Terminal Sur. An investment of almost $780 million has been made for 20 additional gates, construction of a third runway, a new terminal, hundreds of parking spots, a Tocumen River diversion, and four new direct access lanes to the airport.

Building a second terminal will almost double the capacity of the airport to 15 million passengers per year when it is completed in 2016.

Building Through a Public-Private Partnership

The final phase of the expansion not only includes new access to the airport, but also includes a bridge widening at the end of the access in the Corredor Sur. In 1999, the Ingenieros Civiles Asociados of Mexico (ICA) built the Corredor Sur Highway in Panama, a six-lane, 11-mile highway, as part of a 30-year public-private partnership (P3). The highway connects Panama City with San Francisco County. Since 2012, the Panamanian National Company of Highways has been managing the P3. During construction, ICA installed D.S. Brown’s Steelflex Strip Seal Expansion Joints (SSCM2) on all of the project’s bridges.

When the project began, Odebrecht met with project engineer Paulo Drummond to identify the type of joint that was installed in 1999. Noting that the joint, rails, and rubber had performed for nearly 15 years without any maintenance, Odebrecht contacted D.S. Brown to assist with the widening the Corredor Sur Bridge and using a similar expansion joint to ensure waterproofing and continuing performance. They determined that welding new SSCM2 profiles to the existing profiles would be the best solution to widening the bridge. Thirty-one lane-miles of joints will be used on the small bridge.