2016 Patzula, Guatemala

Population: 1,900 people
Daily Traffic: 800 people (45 students)
Span: 33 metres

The Patzula Pedestrian Bridge is located in the municipality of Joyabaj (El Quiché department) in the Western Highlands region of Guatemala, about 60 kilometres northwest of the capital, Guatemala City. The bridge spans approximately 33 m to connect two communities located on opposite sides of the Rio Patzula: Chorraxaj (population: 1550) and Patzula (population: 330).

The main goal of the bridge is to serve about 45 students per day that cross the river to access their school. During days with heavy rains, the students were typically not able to cross via an existing log bridge and would not attend school. The communities also benefit from quicker pedestrian access to the health post in Chorraxaj (which would otherwise require a 40 minute drive), and access to surrounding markets. In total, about 800 people are expected to use the bridge.

2016 Project Summary

21 October 2016

This year we, the University of Toronto Chapter of Bridges to Prosperity, completed our first bridge project in partnership with Engineers Without Borders and the Bridges to Prosperity head office. Our bridge was a 33.8m suspended footbridge in the community of Patzula Guatemala, serving a community of over 330 residents including 45 school children. This bridge provided the community with crucial access to education, health care and business opportunities.

Our chapter began design in April 2016 with the review and assistance of the head office’s Technical Advisory Board. In July, with the design complete, a group of 6 University of Toronto students flew to Patzula to work on the construction of the project. During this time, the community members of Patzula were fantastic hosts, allowing us to stay in their school and use the kitchen there as well. The community was also incredibly dedicated to the project, sending 20 men to work every day, helping to ensure that we could finish the project on schedule. The bridge was built in just over two weeks to a very high standard of quality. The community was so thrilled when the bridge was open they hosted a day long party including speeches from local officials, traditional Mayan dancing and the blessing and ribbon cutting for the new bridge!

Every member of the University of Toronto team was able to grow their engineering skills during this project, we had a chance to be a part of every aspect of the design and construction of the project from excavations to bridge decking and fencing. It was also a great opportunity to practice Spanish and learn how to communicate and work together with a community in a foreign country.

During this exciting and challenging project, our travel team rapidly learned a variety of new skills including:

  • Project Management through the bridge project process
  • Structural Design through the initial bridge design and on-site modifications
  • People Management by working with local labour in a different country and language
  • On-site safety inspection and enforcement through standard PPE training, working at heights and construction safety training
  • Logistics Skills through coordination of material and travel

We are very proud of the whole team and their ability to address the variety of unique challenges that came up during construction including variations from the site survey and working with different material suppliers. Overall this trip provided all of the students not only the chance to learn from experienced engineers but also to learn and develop skills that can’t be learned in the classroom. With well-implemented safety precautions on site, we were also awarded the Parsons Bridge Builder Safety Award of the year, with a $1000 USD prize. This first project was part of our chapter’s biggest growth year yet and the team is continuing to build its capacity to be able to complete a footbridge project every summer.

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