Women carpenters are breaking new ground on the Sixth Street Viaduct construction site

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- What's aiming to be an iconic landmark in the heart of Los Angeles is nearing its completion date and the construction not only features groundbreaking designs, but a groundbreaking workforce.

The Ribbon of Light is the name of the ten arches that will make up the new Sixth Street Viaduct connecting downtown L.A.'s Arts District with Boyle Heights. To one group of women, that name represents more than a bridge between the two neighborhoods. It's also a bridge to a career and future they never imagined would be possible.

"That's what we're really excited about. For the women and girls who are interested in a career in STEM, it's a great way to show that they too can build projects that matter and shape the future of Los Angeles," said Yena Williams, Communications Director for Skanska.

Kerry Gutierrez used to fix scooters for a living, but after learning about a carpenter's apprenticeship program called Boots, she now works as a pile driver on the iconic project.

"I just wanted to get inside the union and I wanted to be a carpenter, so I went ahead and went for it and started here right after. Once you're here, all you can think of is what more can I do? How can I get better? What's next?," she said.

Gutierrez is one of fourteen women working on the massive infrastructure project led by the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering.

"It means that women have the same opportunity as a man does," said Carmen Vivanco.

She was only six years old when she immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico. Now, she is two years into her first construction job and although the days are long, they are rewarding.

"I think it is difficult as a woman, you know, carrying the same tools as the guys do," Vivanco said. "Everyday is a challenge for me because I can't lift as much as they can but I definitely can do the work as they can."

While women may not have always been on construction sites, Gutierrez says she thinks times are changing.

"There's a lot more opportunity for us, like nowadays you see a lot more women. There's not too many, but you see a lot more than you would hear of before. It sounds nerve-racking, it sounds like something that's not for you, but just do it," she said.

The demanding work fills the women on that construction site with a sense of accomplishment. The bridge will reflect their contributions for generations.

"It makes me really, I'm really happy I'm part of this project. I can't wait to finish and be able to tell my kids I was a part of it," Gutierrez added.

The Sixth Street Viaduct Replacement project is expected to be completed in the summer of 2022.

"Our America: Women Forward" continues all week on Eyewitness News at 4 p.m. Learn more at abc7.com/OurAmerica

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