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CHAPTER: Duke University
COUNTRY: El Salvador
COMMUNITY: San Jose Villanueva
PROJECT: Pedestrian Bridge

Death. Education.
Rushing water blocks their way.
Little helpless kids...

Maria Gibbs
Jack Jamieson III
Mauricio Villa

October 13, 2010

Part 1 - Administrative Information




Project Leader

Maria Gibbs



GPS guru

Jack Jamieson



Smooth Talker

Mauricio Villa




Mike + Susie Jenkins



Bridges to Prosperity

Milosz Reterski



Zaragoza Consejo

José Rodriguez







Epilogos Project Coordinator




Epilogos Assistant









Tourist Visa











Part 2: Technical Information

2.1    Introduction

The goal of this assessment trip was to find the site with the most need for a pedestrian bridge in San Jose Villanueva.

2.2    Program Background

Rural villages in San Jose Villanueva, El Salvador are periodically cut off from the larger community when heavy rains cause water levels in the adjacent river 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. Gloria teaches in a rural school in Los Naranjos, SJV, 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. This project will assess the possibility of constructing a pedestrian bridge that will allow children to safely cross the river and get to school year round. The bridge will also offer a safe way to commute to work on foot and grant access to markets and major roads.

2.3    Trip Description

Day 1
Thursday 10/ 7 / 2010

Mike picked us up from the airport and drove us around some of the back parts of San Jose Villanueva. We saw a river crossing in Matazano where the road was completely washed out. The water had wiped out pedestrian bridges before but right now there is a pasarela still standing (pasarela is the name for the rickety, highway overpass foot paths). The primary concern at this site is making a hardened roadway that will last through the floods. Next we drove around  back on the freeway and made our way to a second site, Guadalupe?, that Milosz had recommended for the pedestrian bridge. This site has an existing vehicular culvert bridge that the water runs over during and after heavy rains. Mike suggested that the pedestrian bridge be placed on higher ground than the existing bridge is. We took pictures of both sites. After eating dinner at Mike and Susie's we went to a meeting that they had with some community members about some houses that Epilogos is sponsoring.

Day 2
Friday 10 / 8

Today we went to take a look at the Guayabo site.  We did the preliminary technical feasibility survey and tried to do the social feasibility but there weren't many people to talk to.  The one family we talked to didn't seem to know much about who needed to cross the river and how often they need to/ aren't able to.  At this point, we don't know for sure if there's a true need for a bridge or not.

Day 3
Saturday 10/9

Last night we emailed Milosz to clarify which site he was talking about in his email. He responded with the following:

Hi Maria,

I visited the Guadalupe and El Porvenir site, the second photo.
During my conversations with the mayor of Zaragoza, I learned that there were indeed landownership issues; I would talk to the mayor if I were you. He knows about B2P, and he's been helping us a lot. The issues at Guadalupe and El Porvenir are that the land on the near side of the river is owned by somebody, the mayor's brother, I think. This plot of land is where you ideally want to put the bridge, because it is about 1.5 meters taller. Otherwise, you'd have to put the abutment in the wide part of the road. Please see the attached kmz file; this will help you do the survey. Do both, one with the ideal right abutment, and one with the compromise, if you can't get the mayor's brother's approval. But, absolutely go talk to the mayor of Zaragoza; he knows about this project, and that you guys are in town.

We tried to call Milosz, but his phone went to the machine every time. We went out with Keily to survey the El Guayabo site. We hit the rock with a hammer to determine what type of rock and we heard a dull thud. Susie confirmed that the rock in this region is shale. While we surveyed the crossing, about 7 people walked by in total. 3 were boys carrying firewood. They said that after it rains, the river is impassible. Sometimes even when it doesn't rain in El Guayabo, if it rains upriver, a wall of water will come. Right now, they use a board to get across the river to carry firewood and get to school.

Day 4
Sunday 10/10/10

Today we went to the Zaragoza site (which we previously referred to as the Guadalupe Guayabo site). We met with José Rodriguez at 8am. He showed us where he had talked with Milosz about putting the towers. The higher ground that would make a better bridge belongs to Jose's brother, but his brother has plans for another project on that land so he doesn't want it to be used for a bridge. We found out that there are 36 families from the two villages Guayabo and Tula on the San Jose Villanueva side of the river. The community on the Zaragoza side is called San Francisco (iote?). We surveyed the crossing and took points along both edges of the river. We also calculated the velocity of the water flowing under the proposed crossing. During the 2.5 hours we were surveying, we took a traffic count. According to Jose and other community members we surveyed, the most urgent need is for children to get to school. Jose said that after heavy rains, the river is sometimes impassible for 4 days. People also cross the river to transport produce and wood and to access the Panamerican highway.

Next, we followed José to the site at La Fortaleza, that Milosz will be completing with a corporate team. From there, we went to a community meeting in La Fortaleza so Mike could be introduced to that community.

In the afternoon we visited Natalia de Siman

Day 5
Monday 10/11

This morning we went to visit La Arada Vieja (also knows as Las Naranjas), where Maria's friend Gloria teaches. Arada Vieja is a very remote community and it was a very bumpy car ride to get there. There is a petroglyph that is said to be 2,000 years old, created during the pre-Columbian Mayan era. The people of the village are working with a few NGO's to turn this site into a tourist attraction. A restaurant has already been built, and we were very surprised to see what was being built in its patio... a pool! To get to 'La Piedra Pintada' from the village, you must cross a river with approximately a 10 meter span. During the rainy season, the Piedra Pintada becomes inaccessible because the river is impassible. There is already a concrete path leading to La Piedra Pintada, and the people of Arada Vieja need a pedestrian bridge to connect the path and allow tourists to access the petroglyph year round.

Day 6
Tuesday 10/13/10

We had a meeting scheduled with the mayor this morning at 10, but he came by the Epilogos office to say he had been summoned to the capital by the president and had to reschedule for later in the day. By chance, a woman from El Porvenir had walked the two hours into downtown San José Villanueva to pay for one of the Epilogos smokless ovens. Mike asked her to organize a community meeting in El Porvenir to talk about the pedestrian bridge. We drove to El Porvenir at 11:30 for the meeting. The woman was only able to round up about 9 people because of the short notice. We discussed our intentions to build a pedestrian bridge at the crossing that divides El Porvenir, Tula, and Guayabo from San Francisco and the main highway. We emphasized that the success of the project depends on willingness of the community to contribute labor, and their commitment to maintain the bridge after we leave. The community was enthusiastic about the project and indicated that they would be proactive in organizing labor from the affected communities. During this meeting, we learned that the bridge will not only help the communities on the San Jose Villanueva side access school, markets and emergency healthcare, but it will also allow the residents of San Francisco (on the Zaragoza side) to access their Milpa (corn) fields.

In the afternoon we went and met with the mayor of San Jose Villanueva. He was also enthusiastic about our project and said he would bring it up with his consejo the following day and get us a signed letter of permission from both his and the Zaragoza mayor's office. When we got back from the meeting with the Mayor, we met with Milosz, of Bridges to Prosperity, who just returned from Guatemala. He gave us the go ahead to pursue the Zaragoza crossing as a Bridges to Prosperity project. He told us that most likely, he will be leaving to start a B2P program in Guatemala in January or February, and that we will be working mostly with another Bridges to Prosperity person named Netty. Netty will start the project before we arrive on the ground, getting the foundations dug and the tiers built. Milosz mentioned that he will be needing volunteers over winter break and this summer in Guatemala, which could be a possibility for some of the Duke-EWB students who can't travel with our implementation team.

For our last night in El Salvador, Susie took us down to the coast, where we saw a beautiful sunset and had a nice dinner at one of her favorite restaurants that overlooks the ocean.

Part 3: Community Information

3.1 Sites Visited

    A hardened roadway was built a few years ago but has since been completely washed out when the river it traversed flooded and roared around the corner destroying everything in its path as shown in Figure 1.  Before the crossing, the river narrows and goes around a bend.  This is not an ideal spot for a crossing (and this is a perfect example as to why).  Next to the roadway crossing there's a pasarela that allows pedestrian traffic to cross (upper left, Figure 2).  Two other pasarelas have been built in this spot but both have been washed away during a flood.

Guayabo near downtown San Jose Villanueva-
    This site is about a 20-minute walk from the Epilogos house through San Jose Villanueva.  As shown in Figures 3, 4 & 5, the road once again goes straight into the river and is crossable during the dry season when the river is either completely dried up or is only about 3 feet deep.  On the other hand, during the rainy season the river floods and can be anywhere from 5 to 15 feet deep and utterly un-crossable.  Both banks of the river are rock (possibly shale) and would be sturdy for the towers of a pedestrian bridge.  Residents from El Porvenir need to cross the river for crops, firewood and children cross to get to school.  Again, the crossing is fairly close to a bend in the river and it narrows as it goes around the bend causing fast-moving, dangerous water rushing down on unsuspecting river-crossers.

    During our preliminary visit to this site we decided that it was worth surveying and taking further measurements.  We also talked to a family that lives close to the river crossing on the San Jose Villanueva and they said that the river is crossable most of the year, even during the rainy season.  From this family we got the impression that there isn't much of a need for a pedestrian bridge (although we must keep in mind that these people do not need to cross the river to get food, firewood or to go to school).  We did not get the chance to talk to families from the other communities that would need to cross the river often.

Buena Vista-
    At this site there is a hardened roadway that goes through the river.  The river flows over the road, even after five days without rain (Figure 6).  During the rainy season, the river level rises and the water moves much quicker over the road and it becomes very dangerous because the water can push a car off the road into the river.  There is a metal pasarela that provides a pedestrian crossing about 20 meters downriver (Figure 7).  By inspection, it looks like there is some scouring happening at the base of on of the piers. The steel is rusting; several handrails have already fallen off and there are holes in the stairs.

Arada Vieja-
    A small pedestrian bridge is needed here in order to complete a path up into the mountain to La Piedra Pintada, a potential tourist attraction.  La Piedra Pintada is a big rock with carvings that are over 2000 years old.  This is the site of Epilogos's first project and it has since been built up with a small hotel with a small pool.  The river that needs to be crossed in order to get to La Piedra Pintada seems small enough that a pasarela would be sufficient (Figure 8).  Also, there is an even smaller crossing further up the path with a slab of concrete being supported by wood.  This could possibly be fortified so it would last longer.

3.2 Selected Site
Zaragoza (San Francisco/Porvenir)-
    This site is located on the boundary between the Zaragoza and San Jose Villanueva municipalities.  There has been talk of a bridge at this location for several years but it has never been built because neither municipality is willing to spend the resources for a bridge on the outskirts of their jurisdiction.  The San Antonio River divides the rural farming communities of El Guayabo, El Porvenir and Tula from San Francisco and the adjacent Route 4, which runs from the ocean to the capital, San Salvador.  During the rainy season, which lasts from June to November, it rains frequently and it is very uncommon to have a period of time lasting longer than a few days without rain.  After a heavy rain or a few consecutive days of rain, the river will rise 1 to 2 meters and flood the banks.  There is an existing vehicular bridge that is passable if it hasn't rained for several days but becomes impassable and dangerous when the water rises preventing both vehicles and people from crossing.  It has been reported that at times it will be sunny at the site but raining upriver and a wall of water will barrel down the river sometimes carrying small trees.  The citizens of El Porvenir, El Guayabo, Tula and San Francisco have tried to mend the existing vehicular bridge that is eroding and falling apart.  A pedestrian bridge in this location will serve 36 families.  Children that live in the communities on the San Jose Villanueva side of the river would be able to use the bridge to get to school everyday, eliminating the problem of dangerous crossing conditions during the rainy season.  The bridge would also allow people to transport produce, access stores and Route 4 (la Carretera al Puerto de la Libertad).  When it rains heavily, the communities are cut off for up to 4 days at a time and a pedestrian bridge will alleviate this problem.  Also, the people of San Francisco need to cross the river to the SJV side in order to tend their milpa (corn). During the 2.5 hours we spent surveying we conducted a traffic count. 32 people went by in total (produce-4, church-7, wood-10, machetes-7, propane-1,water-3)
    José Rodriguez, who is part of the consejo for the Zaragoza mayor's office, is our contact for this site.  The ideal site for the bridge is located approximately 8 meters upriver from the standing vehicular bridge, but this land is owned by José Rodriguez's brother who is unwilling to donate his land for the bridge because he has already drafted plans for another project on that land.  He will allow the anchor cable for the tower on the San Francisco side to be placed on his land.  On the other side of the river, José has already obtained the verbal consent of the landowner to allow the SJV tower to be placed on his land and is currently waiting to receive written consent.           

3.3 Community/NGO Resources and Constraints
Epilogos (http://www.epilogos.org/) is a non-profit organization that works out of San Jose Villanueva to leverage local and international resources for community development projects related to Energy, health, education, and infrastructure. For this project, Epilogos will serve as a connection to the communities affected by the bridge, acting to both advocate for the community and enrich the students' learning experience.  The founders of Epilogos, Mike and Susie, have lived in San Jose Villanueva since 2002 and have an extensive network of contacts and political connections that will help us ensure the success of the project.  They served as our hosts for the assessment trip and may serve the same role during implementation depending on the availability of safe, cheaper living accommodations.

Bridges to Prosperity (http://www.bridgestoprosperity.org/) is a global organization with experience building pedestrian bridges in seventeen countries over the past ten years. Bridges to Prosperity will provide technical expertise during the planning and construction phases of the bridge.  Our B2P contact is Milosz Reterski (miloszreterski@bridgestoprosperity.org) who found the Zaragoza site and has been in contact with both the Zaragoza government and José Rodriguez.  Milosz is willing to collaborate with Duke EWB on this project if we choose the Zaragoza site.  He suggests that before the Duke team arrives on site, the B2P team can prepare the site by completing the excavation, foundation and 2 to 3 tiers for each of the 2 towers.  When the Duke team arrives, they will oversee the erection, completion of the towers, setting of the sag and finishing the walkway.

4.3 Community Relations

    We met with a small group of people from El Porvenir.  There were 8 adults, 1 child representing 5 families of the 28 families that form El Porvenir.  The limited presence was due to the last minute notice of the meeting and the fact that they were working, not a lack of interest in the meeting.  This lack of planning was our fault but was unavoidable.  The community reiterated that the most urgent need for the bridge is for children to get to school, to transport produce and access emergency healthcare.  During the rainy season, the water will rise to a level so that the water comes to the waist of anyone standing on the vehicular bridge.  The current is too strong for the elderly and young children to cross at all and dangerous for strong adults.
    The people in San Francisco (Zaragoza) have milpa (corn) on the SJV side that they need to cross the river to tend.  On the other hand, the people of El Porvenir and Tula have to cross to the Zaragoza side to sell their produce.  The people of Tula need to cross the bridge everyday that they can to sell their crops and travel to Santa Tecla.  The people who were present were very enthusiastic and gave their verbal commitment to organize and contribute labor to the project.  They understand that this will involve 1500 mandays of labor starting before the Duke team arrives with the digging of the foundation and erection of the towers up until the completion of the bridge.  They understood the importance of preparing the site before the team arrives and drew the analogy of having to clear and prepare the site for a house before the Epilogos team would build for them.  The people present agreed to inform the absent 23 families in the community about the agreements made in the meeting.  They also said they would talk to Tula and El Guayabo to try to get them onboard with the project and to try to get them to contribute labor.  We have also asked José Rodriguez to organize a larger inter-community meeting.
We also met with the mayor of San José Villanueva. According to Mike, he doesn't have much of a backbone and rarely follows through on the things he promises. The purpose of our meeting with him was just to let him know a little bit about the project and more importantly to get the permission of the alcaldía to construct the bridge. He fully supports the project and will give us a signed paper indicating his consent after he meets with his consejo.

Part 5 - Data Collection and Analysis

    We surveyed two sites, Guayabo near downtown SJV and Zaragoza.  We did a preliminary technical feasibility survey for both of these sites and found that both were favorable for a pedestrian bridge.  The only criterion that was not favorable was the elevation difference between towers at the Guayabo site.