The administration of Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera is pressing ahead with plans for a six-lane freeway that would encircle the city despite cost projections that have increased from $519 million to almost $720 million since it was first proposed.
Cabrera and his staff are looking for funding which, they say, will have to include money from the city, federal government as well as loans. The mayor says he is looking for 85% of the funding to come from outside the city budget.
Cabrera’s most significant move to realize the project may have come last week when he announced his support for President Rafael Correa. Previously, he had been aligned with a number of elected officials who are not members of the president’s Alianza País party. Although Cabrera defeated incumbent mayor and País member Paúl Granda in the February elections, he had supported Correa is his first presidential campaign in 2007.
Although Correa has not committed to supporting the project until all studies are completed and reviewed, he said it is something the government will consider. “This would be the most expensive highway project in the country’s history but is something we are interested in,” he said.
The 50-kilometer freeway is necessary, according to Cabrera, to relieve traffic pressure on the central city. “Traffic congestion is getting worse and it will degrade the quality of life if we don’t develop alternative plans,” he says. “The time to act now.” He says that it is impossible to increase street capacity in many areas of Cuenca, particularly in the historic district, and adds that the number of vehicles on city streets will continue to grow.
According to Cabrera, the freeway would divert 16,000 to 20,000 vehicle trips a day from the central city.
Cabrera has defended the freeway from some members of the city council who say the city should be looking harder at alternative methods of transportation, including expansion of the tram line and the addition of bicycle paths. “These help, but we cannot ignore the reality of the situation. More cars mean more congestion,” he says.
The proposed freeway project is a six-lane, limited access highway, beginning in Guangarcucho and ending in Tarqui. Project plans call for 11 bridges, two of which would be the largest in southern Ecuador. The road would connect with the Pan American highway to the north and south of the city and would go through the communities Llacao, Checa, Chiquintad, Ricaurte, Sayausí and Baños.
Two funding proposals the city is considering are loans from the French and Chinese governments in exchange for allowing contractors from those countries to perform the work. Cabrera says this formula is already being used in the construction of the tram. More than 200 French workers are in Cuenca managing tram construction while about 300 Chinese are in the area to oversee work on two hydro-electric projects in Azuay Province.
Photo caption: Cuenca’s proposed freeway.