Long-awaited UNESCO report on tram project delivered to Cuenca officials; once seen as a political tool, it’s now only a distraction

Nov 12, 2014

chl unesco1

Sign on Calle Gran Colombia asks UNESCO to stop tram project.

Monday’s delivery of a report that may contain recommendations for the construction of Cuenca’s light rail system appeared to draw only limited interest from city officials.

The 66-page report from a UNESCO team of experts was once considered a tool that would allow new Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera to make major changes to the tram project, including rerouting it outside of the historic district. That all changed, however, after Cabrera climbed onto President Rafael Correa’s political wagon, a political shift which Cabrera announced last month. Correa supports the tram project as it was originally planned.

City transportation director Gerard Fernandez said on Tuesday that he has not had time to read the report but said he will later this week. He said that once he and his staff review the document and brief the mayor on its contents, it will be released to the public.

Opponents of the tram, primarily those living and operating businesses on Calles Gran Colombia and Marsical La Mar in the historic district, had hoped that the report would provide the ammunition to derail the project. During the mayoral campaign earlier this year in which Cabrera defeated Paúl Granda, a member of Correa’s Alianza País political party, Cabrera criticized tram planning and said he would request the UNESCO report to correct problems he saw in the original design. The tram was the cornerstone of the Granda administration.

Cabrera’s October announcement of support for Correa has left opponents bitterly disappointed. “We feel like we have been stabbed in the back,” says Graciela Muñoz, a business owner on Gran Colombia who now concedes that the tram route will probably not change no matter what the UNESCO report says.

“He (Cabrera) has sold out to get money for his freeway,” she said, referring to the mayor’s proposed ring-road freeway around Cuenca that needs federal funding and support from Correa to advance. According to estimates, the freeway will cost between half and three-quarters of a billion dollars.

Fernandez says that recommendations from the report will be incorporated into the project wherever possible but that tram construction will begin early next year in the historic district. “We need to maintain our new schedule to make up lost time even if it requires more staff and overtime hours,” he said. “The route through the historic center as well as on Av. Las Americas near Feria Libre will be top priorities next year.”

In addition to addressing light rail issues in the historic district, the UNESCO report may also contain comments and recommendations for the San Francisco Plaza project scheduled to begin construction in 2015. Recommendations in the report are not binding on project plans.

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