Skip to Main Navigation

A small bridge, a great transformation for the people of Tocantins, Northern Brazil

Tocantins, Brazil. Adeusil Antonio Gonçalves and his son, Roberto.

Adeusil Antonio Gonçalves and his son Roberto, from Tocantins.

All photos by Mariana Ceratti/World Bank

The construction of a new bridge spanning the Manoel Alves River has opened up easier access to employment, education, and healthcare services, while also cutting down on logistical expenses. This improvement is among the results of a nine-year investment in the state

Ricardinho Nunes, a former ferryman from Tocantins, Brazil.

For 51-year-old Ricardinho Nunes (photo), from the Apinajé village in São Valério, Tocantins, his aspiration was to leave his ferryman days behind. He succeeded, much to his relief. For seven years, he managed the ferry that shuttled residents and goods across the Manoel Alves River between São Valério and Santa Rosa do Tocantins, in Northern Brazil. The ferry, which was merely tethered by a cable, was at the mercy of the river's whims, posing a hazard to all who crossed.

“Countless lives were in my hands—kids, seniors, non-swimmers. I dreaded the ferry's potential failure, which could have been disastrous,” he shared. On numerous occasions, he had to operate the ferry after hours to transport those in urgent need of medical care.

When the ferry wasn't an option, the only alternative was a lengthy 180 km detour connecting the two towns, a route that was not only time-consuming but also costly for local farmers. Hence, the entire community longed for the bridge over the Manoel Alves. “Even us ferrymen were in favor, despite the risk of job loss,” Ricardinho admitted.

After five decades of advocacy, the community celebrated the bridge's opening in May 2022. The 150-meter concrete structure is part of the Integrated and Sustainable Regional Development Project of Tocantins (PDRIS), backed by the state government and the World Bank.

The initiative poured $282 million into seven sectors: transportation, education, agriculture, the environment, tourism, water resources, and public administration enhancement. “Over nine years, we undertook 718 activities,” Mauricio Fregonesi, the project's manager for the Tocantins government, recalled.

The PDRIS was responsible for upgrading 2,200 km of state roads. Additionally, it facilitated the construction of galleries, viaducts, culverts, and bridges, thereby improving access for residents across 72 municipalities. In total, 2,300 projects were completed, making 5,500 km of secondary roads in Tocantins more accessible, as outlined by Carlos Bellas, a Transport expert at the World Bank.

Ricardinho may have given up ferrying, but he wasn't left jobless. He transitioned to a role with the São Valério City Hall, where he now performs maintenance duties in schools and on city property. "It's demanding work, but it comes with far fewer worries," he says with a sense of contentment.

Bridge over Manoel Alves River

Adeusil Antonio Gonçalves, a 64-year-old retired mason and electrician from Santa Rosa, reminisces about a time before the ferry, when basic necessities for the Apinajé village had to be transported by donkey cart to the river's edge.

“If the cart was too large for the vessel, someone would cross over to announce the goods' arrival. Then, a few canoes would come to collect them,” he recalls.

“Back then, we relied on bicycles, horses, donkeys for transport. Things have changed rapidly since. Keeping up with the latest car models is a challenge,” he says with a chuckle.

One Wednesday morning, Adeusil joined his son, electrician Roberto Gonçalves, as he crossed the new bridge from Santa Rosa to São Valério to service security cameras on a farm. With the bridge now operational, Roberto finds it easier to navigate the area. “The bridge has been a boon for all of us here. For instance, I can now attend to more customers,” Roberto explains.

Matheus Vitor da Silva, an agronomist engineer and farmer from Tocantins, Brazil.

Matheus Vitor da Silva (photo), an agronomist engineer and farmer from the Apinajé village, recalls the community's collective effort in the final stages of the bridge's construction, driven by the urgency to see it completed. “Heavy rains had delayed the embankment work. Once there was a break in the weather, we added more trucks to assist the government's teams, and that helped finish the job,” he said.

Matheus and his family, soy and corn producers originally from Paraná, Southern Brazil, have witnessed firsthand the logistical benefits. Now, their produce travels shorter distances, requiring fewer trucks that can be larger in size, thanks to the bridge's capacity, resulting in significant fuel savings.

"We used to spend 6 reais per sack for transport, but now it's down to between 4 and 4.50 reais," Matheus notes. "With an annual production of 35,000 to 40,000 sacks, we're saving up to 60,000 reais on freight costs."

“Tocantins is a major producer of essential goods in Brazil, and the project's road infrastructure was designed to enhance logistics, among other things,” said Fatima Amazonas, who co-managed the project for nearly five years.

The new infrastructure has made a noticeable difference in the lives of the region's inhabitants. Now, achieving daily objectives, whether it's going to work, attending school, seeking medical care, or shopping, is as simple as crossing the bridge.


    loader image


    loader image