El Salvador Pedestrian Footbridge 2011 – El Porvenir

Rural villages in Western El Salvador are periodically cut off from the larger community when heavy rains cause water levels in rivers to rise. This prevents both vehicles and pedestrians from crossing the river safely, sometimes for days at a time. Duke Civil Engineering student Maria Gibbs was speaking to her longtime Salvadoran friend Gloria Sandoval, who mentioned the need for pedestrian bridges in El Salvador’s farming communities. Gloria teaches in a rural school in Los Naranjos, and became aware of this problem when her students would either miss school entirely for several days or come to class soaking wet after having waded through the precarious river crossing. Maria presented this information to Duke Engineers for International Development (DEID) and an El Salvadoran pedestrian bridge was adopted as a project. In October of 2010, a team of three Duke students traveled to El Salvador for a week to conduct a pedestrian bridge assessment in San Jose Villanueva. Mike and Susie Jenkins of the local NGO Epilogos put the group in contact with Bridges to Prosperity (B2P). During the 2010-11 school year, a group of 20 engineering students worked on the design of the pedestrian bridge for the chosen site as well as a culvert bridge rehabilitation project for an existing dilapidated bridge in the area. In the spring, Bridges to Prosperity requested that the Duke students also help finish the construction of a pedestrian bridge in the nearby town of Hacienda Corinto during our 8-week summer implementation trip.

The El Porvenir pedestrian bridge design was done by the design team of the DEID-El Salvador project. The tower placement and sag calculations were approved by the B2P technical review board in December 2010, and B2P began preliminary construction activities on the site in February of 2010. By the time the Duke team arrived in May, three tiers on each side were complete and both anchor holes were excavated. During the first two and a half weeks of the project we had 3-5 community members per week who assisted with construction labor. The community volunteers became scarcer as the weeks went on, which was expected due to the coincidence of our project with the local planting season. The 44 meter suspended pedestrian footbridge, which transverses the San Antonio River, will provide access to schools, markets, and emergency medical care for three rural farming communities

The San Antonio River divides the 52 families of El Guayabo, El Porvenir, and Tula from the 32-family town of Guadalupe and the adjacent Panamerican highway. During the rainy season, which lasts from June to November, the river will rise up to 2 meters, completely submerging the existing culvert vehicular bridge for up to four days at a time. When the crossing is flooded, the communities are left isolated. Children cannot cross the river to reach the school they attend on the other side and their parents are unable to sell their produce and purchase food and supplies. Over the past ten years, adults and children have drowned trying to cross the flooded river after waiting for hours, sometimes into the night, for the river to recede.

To address these issues, DEID partnered with B2P and successfully completed the pedestrian footbridge in June 2011 allowing the community year-round access.