Although President Rafael Correa told Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera that he was “dreaming” two years ago when Cabrera approached Correa for funding for a 50-kilometer freeway around Cuenca, Cabrera hasn’t given up on the idea.
Estimates put the cost of the project between $500 million and $700 million, two to three times the cost of city’s still-unfinished tram system.
Jaime Guzmán, Cabrera’s transportation director, says that much of the traffic in Cuenca’s city center is due to a lack of a “ring road” to divert long-distance traffic. “A large portion of vehicles entering and leaving Cuenca every day are on their way to other places, traveling from Quito to Loja, for example, or from Paute to Guayaquil,” he says. “There is no reason they should have to pass through the center of the city, which is already over-crowded.”
According to Guzmán, the city’s traffic problems will get worse in 2018 when the tram begins operation. “Several streets in the historic district will be converted to pedestrian use then, putting more pressure on streets outside the district,” he says. “Now is time to move forward with the plans we already have for the ring road.”
Cabrera first proposed the freeway during his first term as mayor, in 2009, maintaining that it is an essential element of long-term transportation planning. “Cuenca is growing rapidly and city streets and avenues are already overused,” he says. “The tram and forms of alternative transportation will help but we cannot ignore the reality. More cars and trucks mean more congestion.”
The proposed freeway would be 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.
When Cabrera brought up the freeway to Correa during a 2015 meeting, the president said funding would have to wait until oil prices rebound, and probably beyond. “It would be the most expensive highway project in Ecuador history,” he said. “We simply don’t have the money for it now.”
Under Cabrera’s latest plan, the financial limitation would be overcome by making the freeway a toll road in its first years of operation. According to Guzmán, several companies have expressed an interest in building and managing the project.