The Cuenca Chamber of Commerce says that poor highway conditions are hurting business and are asking President Guillermo Lasso for help. “Despite years of promises that they will be improved, the highways leading in and out of Cuenca remain unreliable and cause millions of dollars in losses to the city’s manufacturing, agricultural and tourists sectors,” says Chamber President Cristina García.
She says that the highway through the Cajas Mountains, connecting Cuenca to Guayaquil, is an “on-going disaster,” noting temporary closures on Monday and Tuesday due to landslides in western Azuay Province. “Almost a year ago, we were promised that repairs in the Molleturo sector would be complete in 90 days but the construction continues, with vehicles still forced to stop for temporary closures. We were also promised that slopes would be stabilized in other places that experience frequent landslides and nothing has been done.”
García said that repairs to the highway to the north, through Biblián, Zhud and Cochancay, are incomplete. “We were told this would be finished by the end of 2022 and works has not started on several sections,” she says. “In addition, the highway south to Machala and Loja is a continuing disaster with only temporary patches being applied.”
In its letter to Lasso, the Chamber of Commerce demands “a comprehensive plan to connect Cuenca reliably to the rest of the country.”
“We need a budget, we need deadlines, we need a definitive way forward to fix the problem,” García says. “We need engineers and technicians out on the highways formulating a solution. We are tired of temporary fixes that that don’t last.”
When he was transportation minister, former Cuenca mayor Marcelo Cabrera said that highways near Cuenca present “unique design problems” due to the geology of the region. “Although the city sits in a large valley, the areas surrounding it are mountainous with extremely steep slopes and gradients, which leads to frequent landslides and geologic movement.”
García acknowledges the road building and maintenance challenges, but points out that the government has promised solutions in the past. “We are the third largest city in the country and a major business center and we need a solution now. We are telling the president that this is an emergency that needs immediate attention.”