Super Highway Oaxaca-Costa, 201?
On September 11, the ¡Viva Puerto! crew – photographer Lalo Romero, driver Inti Gopar and I – visited the highway from San Antonio Lalana to Santa Martha. The photos speak for themselves. The original plan was to be taken around the site by an ICA engineer who would show us “men working and heavy machinery.” Three dates were made in August and September and each time ICA cancelled.
ICA is the construction company that was awarded a 30-year concession in 2012 to build the 104-km turnpike (autopista) linking the coast, at Ventanilla to Oaxaca, at Barranca Larga. The following is the 10th in a series of articles on the project.
The good news is that work on the super highway is progressing. The bad news is, for reasons known only to itself, ICA continues to give unrealistic completion dates for the project. Originally slated to be in operation by the end of 2014, ICA now says the highway will open in the first half of 2015. Engineers working on the project, however, say the second half of 2016 is more realistic; these are the same engineers who in 2013 said it would be done in 2015.
At the annual meeting of the Mexican Chamber of Commerce in Oaxaca in August, ICA showed the business owners a video, Autopista Oaxaca-Costa, later posted on YouTube by SINFRA (the Oaxaca Department of Infrastructure). The video’s description states that the 5,234 billion peso ($400 million dollar U.S.) project will be finished in the first half of 2015.
The video is intriguing on many levels. The shots of workers and moving trucks are fast-forwarded as in a cartoon to show how fast ICA works. However, to illustrate the “social, political and economic challenges which characterize this region of the country” we are shown a crafts man making a clay pitcher and rows of black-clay ducks. The 4-minute video is chock full of impressive numbers: 20 million cubic meters of earth moved, 2.5 tons of explosives detonated, 13,000 cubic meters of cement, reinforced by 5,300 tons by the end of 2013, but no mention of how many kilometers of highway completed.
Governor Cué met with executives of ICA and the director of the Oaxaca SCT at the end of July. According to the press release, he announced that the state would take a more active role in resolving social issues that have caused delays in the project, including infrastructure improvements.
The good news is that San Antonio Lalana will be getting three-phase electric lines by end of the year and is no longer obstructing the project. (This had been its chief demand for allowing the highway to go through its territory. See ¡Viva Puerto! #11). The bad news is that as of September there are still issues to be resolved in San Sebastián Coatlán and San Vicente Coatlán which have brought construction to a standstill in both communities.
We get it; it’s an enormously difficult project. There are 12 bridges (but only six have been completed) and four tunnels (and excavation had not begun on the first as of mid September). In April, Governor Cué reported that the highway would open in the first trimester of 2015, in July that became the first semester. Then again, President Calderón famously said that the highway would be completed before he left office in December 2013.
TRUCK DRIVERS ASK FOR MORE
Colotepec truckers have blockaded the highway four times in the last two years due to an on-going pay dispute. According to Juan Cuevas Cruz, the secretary general of the Colotepec Truck Drivers’ Union, Section 197 of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), the Oaxaca CTM signed an agreement with ICA in 2012 without consulting the local unions. ICA has refused to re-negotiate the terms and even threatened at one point to bring in its own trucks. Juan Cuevas was optimistic, however, that the problem could be resolved. On average, 15 union trucks work on the site in Colotepec each day.