Highway to Oaxaca
On May 25, 2015, Inti Gopar and I traveled from the Colotepec river bridge to San Sebastian - a distance of around 40 km on the new highway. We could have gone further except for exhaustion and motion sickness. The headquarters for the entire project is now in Ejutla, but there are also offices in San Antonio Lalana. First time I ever went to Lalana the trip took 5 hours — no highway, just normal roads through the mountains. It now takes the ICA buses 75 minutes via the highway. It took us closer to two hours because we drove slowly, stopping to take photos, and we also took what turned out to be an unnecessary detour. We traveled by jeep. No problem with access because the workers and engineers know us.
What I learned in Lalana: there are now 1,200 ICA workers on the project (not including the union truck drivers and other contract workers) and 350 engineers, technicians and administrators. This is down from 2,000 ICA workers and almost 400 ICA engineers, technicians and administrators in February. This reflects a systemic cut back in ICA projects in general. (The company suffered a $55 million dollar loss during the first quarter of 2015.) Nonetheless, we saw people working on more areas of the project than ever before. Yet we also noted the absence of some of the heavy machinery we had seen before.
We counted 15 km of finished highway (with asphalt) in the 25 km stretch north of the Colotepec bridge. Last year we observed that almost the entire 10 km from Ventanilla to Colotpec was paved as was the 10 km from Ejutla (Barranca Larga) to San Vicente. So I think it is fair to say that around 45 km of the 104 km highway is now paved. We did 50 miles per hour easily on the paved sections.
Between the 3-lane paved sections the road is just one lane. In some areas it hugs the side of the mountain in hair-raising curves. There were other areas with warning signs for rock slides and we weren’t wearing hard hats!
The 2.3 km Santa Martha tunnel is almost finished. People at the site said only 46 meters remained to be excavated. It would have been completed earlier but there had been a shortage of "material". (I think that means machinery.)
The best news is that the 6 km in the middle of the highway where no construction had been permitted because of the conflict between the Bienes Comunales of San Sebastian and San Francisco is now open and construction is happening there, at least for the time being. The conflict still has not been resolved but the parties have agreed to let construction go on, for the time being.
The "official" completion date now is June, 2016. I suspect that that is code for in another two years. There is still dynamiting and rock studies to be done, especially in the 6 km conflict zone and three more tunnels and various bridges.
Despite media reports, Grupo Carso is not working on the project. It's all ICA. Apparently the confusion was caused because ICA contracted some machinery from Grupo Carso.