When Tropical Storm Agatha slammed into the Pacific Coast of Central America at the end of May, its heavy rains and crippling winds devastated the infrastructure of numerous communities. The 300-mile long Rio Montagua river flooded 19 communities and took with it the all the bridges spanning its banks. Except one. The Garrucha Bridge, located between the Departments of Quiche and Chimaltenango and connecting the villages Panchaj of Joyabaj, and Garrucha of Tecpan Guatemala, still stands.
The bridge, a 2009 contender for the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award, was built as a partnership between the Wisconsin Professional Partners and the Marquette
University Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. The 67-foot bridge that spans the Motagua River in Guatemala, revitalized the two communities it connected.
Replacing a 100-year-old foot bridge that was more hindrance than convenience, the new bridge increased the quality of life in this rural community. Bus routes now flow through the town, an additional elementary school was built, and access to adult literacy programs, medical clinics, and markets to sell produce are available.
Due to the remote location and lack of heavy machinery, the project team used native materials from the nearby riverbed and ensured materials were light enough to be carried by local workers, thus minimizing the effect on the local environment. Hydraulic analyses were done and optimal locations scoped out to ensure the impact on water elevations and local crops was negligible.
What the team did not expect was the humanitarian impact their work would have. The bridge patched a decades-long conflict between the indigenous Mayan Nations of Quiche and Katachel, each of which collaborated on the project.
The Guatemalan newspaper Nuestro Diario, reported that neighbors to the bridge said, “the bridge remains because it was built ‘as it should be’.”