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CH2M HILL & Engineers Without Borders Build Bridges in Honduras

Dale Thomas/MSP, senior project engineer with the Transportation Business Group, coordinated and led the Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA) trip in October 2010 to Canchias, Honduras. This was a follow-up to the July 2010 implementation trip for the EWB Canchias Bridge Project across the Yure River.

The project scope is to build a 110 ft. vehicle bridge over the Yure River, allowing community access to a farming area operated by the non-governmental agency, Heart to Honduras (HTH). Currently, a foot bridge is present, but is unstable for the farmers who carry heavy loads and dangerous for children carrying the free dairy products back to their schools.

The Canchias village, home to approximately 400 people, is located midway between San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, about 15 miles east of Lake Yohoa. As farming is the main source of income in Honduran communities, this essential project will safely connect the village of Canchias to the community farm. The project addresses transportation and economic benefit needs for the community.

"I have made previous trips to Guatemala on Habitat for Humanity projects, and a colleague suggested I might join Scott Eshleman, from Stanley Consultants in Chicago, on his latest bridge building project for EWB-USA,” explained Dale. "I quickly became part of the team and helped on construction of a pedestrian bridge in Armenta, Honduras. I then continued my involvement with the same group and have made four more trips for assessment, survey, and construction of the Canchias Bridge Project.”

Canchias is economically depressed with high unemployment, and the bridge will allow further development of the agricultural area. There is a plan to develop a tilapia farm on the land and expand various farming activities. The bridge will make the expansion possible, with greater ability to transport goods from the farm year round.

The two-phase construction portion of the project, which began in July 2010, is scheduled to start Phase 2 in February-April 2011. Phase 1 of the construction consisted of pre-casting all the concrete slab panels that will later be moved into place —forming the bottom half of the bridge deck. The slab panels were completed by the teams in July and October of 2010.

Various bridge types were considered and evaluated for constructability, cost, and sustainability. The bridge type being built is an eight-span, single lane, concrete, vehicle bridge/culvert with the top slab serving as the driving surface. The reinforced concrete box culvert will require minimal river excavation, and the low height bridge will allow the river to overtop the entire structure during severe flooding.

Dale emphasizes local community involvement on EWB-USA projects. "One of the biggest lessons learned in Honduras is that you need to involve the local community and partner groups as much as possible. Not only is it necessary to get assistance with the physical labor involved in bridge construction, but the locals often have great ideas on construction methods when you are dealing with limited equipment and resources. The second most important lesson is to expect change. If equipment breaks down or materials aren't delivered as expected, you quickly adapt the plan to keep the project moving.”

"I encourage others at CH2M HILL to get involved and experience the rewards of helping communities to better themselves,” said Dale. "The experience also helps you learn more about your own capabilities. On the EWB-USA trips to Honduras, I have always been impressed with the eagerness with which the locals, including kids, want to help out. When you combine a relatively small EWB-USA team with the local community and partner agencies, you can accomplish a great deal in a short time.”

Susanne Borchert/CHI has also been involved with the Canchias Bridge Project. "As a hydrogeologist, I was not able to use my technical skills much on the engineering design of the bridge. However, my enthusiasm for Latin America and command of the Spanish language hopefully made up for that. With periodic Spanish classes throughout my life, and traveling to Spanish-speaking countries, I helped bridge the communication gap between our EWB-USA group and several of the local Hondurans that didn't speak any English.”

Susanne's communication assistance was not only with the men working at the bridge building site, but also included coordinating meals with the cook at the Heart to Honduras facility and coordinating travel arrangements.

"Working hard together in a group with the EWB-USA Chicagoland Chapter and with Hondurans gives you a real sense of accomplishment at the end of each day, and you get to know the locals in a very different light than if you were a tourist passing through,” said Susanne. "Seeing the poverty (albeit happy people) in the Canchias community that doesn't have electricity, and limited plumbing makes you appreciate what you have at home and too often take for granted. I encourage anyone who has interest to get involved.”

The upcoming Phase 2 implementation will involve seven separate teams that will travel to Honduras from February through April. Dale plans to serve as a team leader on one of those trips.

The total project cost for materials and equipment Phase 1 & 2 is estimated to be $80,000, and is being supported in part through the CH2M HILL EWB-USA Employee Grant Program.

What is Engineers Without Borders?
Engineers Without Borders-USA (EWB-USA) is a non-profit organization helping build sustainable infrastructure and improve the lives of people in developing communities around the world, while training future engineers to be socially responsible and culturally aware. CH2M HILL is a founding sponsor of EWB-USA, providing leadership, financial contributions, and volunteer support. More than 100 employees are actively involved in local chapters and contribute countless hours, substantial passion, and technical expertise to help grow the EWB-USA organization, mentor students, serve as public speakers and ambassadors, and bring sustainable engineering projects to life in countries such as Guatemala, Thailand, and Mali.

How to get involved with Engineers Without Borders
CH2M HILL welcomes our retiree and alumni members to join us and Engineers Without Boarders. If you're interested, please contact Tessa Anderson.



CH2M HILL AlumniConnect | February 1, 2011







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