What effect will federal budget cuts have on Cuenca in 2015?
Not much, at least what you can see, say several officials.
“This year and next year, there will be more major projects in development than any other
time in the city’s history,” says Pabel Muñoz, director of the National Planning Secretariat, noting that funds for the projects have already been allocated. “The biggest problem Cuenca will face is to keep the traffic flowing around all the work,” he said.
By far the largest project is the city’s light rail system, Tranvía de los Cuatro Rios, which will see an intensification of construction this year as work extends into the historic district and toward the industrial park in the northeast.
With a budget of $232 million, the tram is the largest public works project in Cuenca history. The 21-kilometer route runs from Av. Las Americas southwest to the industrial park in the northeast.
A second project, that begins work in February or March, is the widening of Av. Ordoñez Lazo on the west side of the city. The project extends from Av. Las Americas to Sayausí, in the foothills of the Cajas Mountains, connecting to the Cuenca – Guayaquil highway. The project is budgeted for more than $20 million and includes 6.4 kilometers of four-laning plus the addition of sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
A third project, which will begin in the second half of 2015, is the reconstruction of San Francisco Plaza. The project, scheduled to begin in 2014, has stalled over disagreements over the design. A new design is currently being developed by the University of Cuenca school of architecture and will be ready by April.
Reconstruction of the plaza, once considered Cuenca’s central square, has been planned since 1956 but has been derailed on several occasions by political disputes. It is budgeted for $8 million and includes rejuvenation of the plaza as well as remodeling of two buildings south of the plaza. Work is already underway on the building remodeling.
Gerard Fernandez, Cuenca transportation director, says his biggest challenge for 2015 and for most of 2016, will be to keep traffic moving. “We have never had this much construction in the city and we face a very big job routing vehicular traffic around construction,” he says. “There will be major disruptions in the historic district and in the northeast as we extend tram construction.” He says construction work on Av. Lazo will be disruptive but says the traffic coming and going to Guayaquil can be rerouted on the autopista that connects Av. Las Americas to the Cuenca – Guayaquil highway.
In addition to the three major projects, the city plans to rebuild 18 kilometers of sidewalks, according to city public works office.
A CASUALTY OF BUDGET CUTS?
One casualty of national budget cuts will probably be Mayor Marcelo Cabrera’s plan for a freeway by-pass of the city. The massive project would cost between half and three-quarters of billion dollars. Cabrera hoped to obtain funding for planning this year but it appears unlikely he will get it.