Friday, February 7, 2014

A Tale of Two Bridges

Building the huge bridge in Las Flores in conjunction with the Honduran government has certainly had its up and downs. 

Although we provide the engineering, management, supervision, and much of the equipment (scaffolding, tools, forms for pouring cement, etc) for the project, the government provides funding for materials (cement and rebar), labor costs, and the costs related to the use of large equipment like bulldozers and the cranes that raised the beams. A small crew of paid workers sets up the forms for each concrete pour, then the local communities provide volunteer labor for the day when that pour takes place, then the paid crew tears down the forms and sets up for the next pour. In this way, the entire cost of the bridge is significantly less than normal - like about 1/8th of the price - and a large part of that savings is that no bribes or "kickbacks" are being paid!

The local government, however, doesn't have a lot of money, and they've occasionally fallen behind on paying for the construction costs. There have been several times when we have had to halt work on the bridge, until the payments could be caught up again. 

The bridge is now very close to completion. The deck is poured all the way across the river, but the third of the three deck sections still needs safety walls at the sides. The dirt access ramps on either side of the river need to be bulldozed into place, and the old bridge must be torn down. And that's it. About six weeks of work, and this bridge will be done

Unfortunately, right at this point, so close to completion . . . the flow of funds stopped, and so construction stalled out again. Frustrating for everyone, but life in a third world country involves this kind of frustration on a frequent basis. 

With no bridge work to do, the menfolk have been working on another project that is near and dear to my heart - the construction of our personal house. But this weekend, we received word of an incident that changed the situation . . .  one of the four cables holding up the existing bridge snapped! 

There are four cables running under the existing Las Flores bridge. The one to the far right snapped off where it goes into the concrete at the end.

Looking up at the underside of the bridge, you can see the three remaining cables, and the scored area on the wood where the fourth cable WAS, but is now missing. You can also see the hole where that cable used to go into the concrete structure.

The broken end of the cable. It broke right where it entered the concrete, and then the weight of the bridge pulled the cable away from the end of the bridge. Notice how the end of the cable has been wired to a board, so that it doesn't get pulled any farther. This is keeping the whole bridge from tilting sideways!

Because it wasn't being held in place anymore, the cable pulled up between the boards in the places where the stringers connected to it. This allowed the bridge to sag badly at these points.

These "humps" of cable shouldn't be there . . . that's the cable that should be strung tightly across, holding up the bridge.

Looking down from the new bridge, you can sort of see how badly the old bridge is now slanting to one side. And really? This bridge wasn't exactly the safest you'd ever seen, before this cable broke!

With this cable broken, only pedestrians and motorcyclists are using the existing bridge. There is a ford nearby, but generally only larger vehicles use it. The little local taxis are too big for the bridge and too small for the ford, so those cannot be used at all now, by the communities on the far side of the bridge.

Yesterday we received a call from the municipal government in Las Flores, telling us that they had found the money to pay to get the construction work on the new bridge up and running again. We had been expecting the call . . . we knew they'd have to come up with the money for the work, now that the situation had become rather urgent! 

So, Monday morning, our crew will be back in Las Flores, finishing the new bridge there! It will be wonderful to have it done - both for us, and for the people who will be able to cross it!


Christi Pelt said...

Now I can't get that old hymn, "I'm Building a Bridge" out of my head! I'm glad you guys are building a bridge because those before pictures are terrifying to this 1st world gal.

Trish said...

Christi - better that hymn than "London Bridge is falling down." LOL

In choosing a title for this blog post, I toyed with the idea of naming it "Las Flores Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down . . . " - but I was afraid it would look like I was making light of what is a serious situation for people who live on the other side!

Jan said...

Great pictures and wow, glad the funds will be coming through. That old bridge looks scary!

Jenny Smith said...

Those pictures are crazy!! I knew you were building a new bridge, but I never realized just how needed it is!

Tawnia said...

I have a vivid childhood memory of a suspension foot-bridge in a park near my home. That thing was terrifying, and even more so when the other kids would bounce it! I think I would not have liked your old bridge *before* the cable snapped. Now? No way!

Natalie B said...

That is one scary looking bridge. I'm with Tawnia... I wouldn't have wanted to cross it even before!

Interesting to me that the government will provide money for private citizens to do such a project. That's very practical. It certainly wouldn't happen here.

Beth Nichols said...

My dad was on the Narrows Bridge shortly before it fell. Glad your old bridge didn't follow suit. Your new bridge will help the whole community!

Trish said...

Thanks Jan - we're really glad to have these funds coming in, too!

Yeah, Jenny, you're not gonna see people driving over a bridge like that in the US much!

Tawnia - maybe when you drive down here we can take you across one of the less-terrifying cable bridges . . . LOL

Natalie - we're not even citizens of Honduras, we're only legal residents!

Beth - I was thinking of how many people around here are likely saying "I just drove across that bridge, and now it's broken!" My own men have gone across it on occasion, and we've driven visiting gringo teams across, etc.

Rick said...

I should show this to Linda. Living along the Ohio River we use bridges all the time. One bridge (toll bridge) we use to get to the Fiesta Ware warehouse is a metal grate road surface that "sings" as you drive across it. She is always white knuckled by grabbing onto something when we cross it. I am glad a new bridge will replace yours.

Heather A said...

Oh, no way would I have ridden in a vehicle across that bridge BEFORE it broke.

I'm so thankful you're getting a new bridge (and work done on your house, too! YAY!)

Who's afraid of the big broken bridge?!?!
(Mostly me.)

Heather A said...

But for real... if I'd have come to visit you, I'd have asked to get out and walk across the bridge by myself. I wasn't kidding. The end.

Pam Llewellyn said...

I dunno, Heather!! I DID go there, and I was way too afraid of that old bridge to even stand on it and take pictures!! I stand in awe of people that drove over it...... Just too rickety for my comfort level!