Possible solutions for Cajas highway landslides: A tunnel or a concrete and steel mesh mountainside

Sep 10, 2021 | 14 comments

Although the Transportation Ministry cautioned they are “very preliminary,” two solutions have been proposed to control the landslides on the Cuenca-Molleturo-Guayaquil highway: a tunnel or a 150-meter-high cover of concrete and steel mesh over the side of the mountain.

The delay in travel on the Cajas highway can add as much as an hour to the trip between Cuenca and Guayaquil, the transportation ministry says.

“These are proposals arrived at quickly and we are continuing to study the geotechnical, geophysical and hydraulic elements of the problem,” said Transportation Minister Marcelo Cabrera. “We are continuing to the study the situation and expect to have formal proposal by the end of the month.”

The highway is currently open to travel during daylight hours although passage takes about an hour longer than it did prior to the landslides as only one lane is open in the affected area. The highway was closed entirely on three occasions due to rockfall.

Deputy Transportation Minister Carolina Ormaza said that the concrete and mesh solution is the least expensive, although more study is need to determine if it is feasible. “It would take five or six months to complete and cost about $4 million,” she said.

The second option, a tunnel through the mountain, would take much longer to construct and cost at least $30 to $40 million. “Again, we need more data to see if this is possible given the instability of the mountain,” Ormaza said. “There is the possibility that the tunnel process could destabilize the entire mountain side, which would make limited passage on the highway impossible.”

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The possibility of rerouting the highway has been ruled out, Ormaza said. “Given the geology of the area, there is simply no other place to put it. Even if it were possible, such a project could take as much as three years for the studies and construction.”

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