The highway that connects Cuenca to Guayaquil and the coast reopened Tuesday on a limited basis following a two-month closure due to rockslides. The highway will be open from 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Transportation Ministry monitoring the stability of the adjacent mountainside.
The Ministry said work will begin immediately to build an alternate 2.2 kilometer section of highway around the slide area, located at kilometer marker 49. Rockslides have plagued the current route since it opened 22 years ago. Four drivers and passengers were killed and five more were injured when rocks fell on their cars in September and October.
A spokesman for the Ministry says the new roadway could open as soon as late October, in time for Carnival, but cautioned that the schedule depended on weather and other factors.
Assistant Transportation Secretary Luis Barsallo said the decision to reopen the highway was based on the fact that there have been no “substantial” rockfalls since residents of Molleturo, near kilometer 49, held a series of mingas to clear rocks from the mountain above the slide area. “This is a temporary solution, not a permanent one, and we will monitor the area minute by minute,” he said. “If there are new rockfalls, we will close the highway again to protect the public.”
He said that the Ministry is still urging motorists to use the alternate route between Cuenca and Guayaquil, through Cañar Province to Zhud and Cochancay. “This highway extends the trip by about an hour but there is no danger of road closures,” Barsallo said.
Residents of Molleturo and representatives of bus and trucking companies have staged recent protests in Cuenca, complaining about delays in reopening the Cajas highway. The Transportation Ministry says it could not begin repairs and construction of the alternate route until engineering studies were complete.