Federal Transportation Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Esparza has again disclaimed responsibility for the sinkhole that appeared on the Cuernavaca Paso Express highway in July, causing the death of a father and son after their car plunged into the hole.
Heavy rain and garbage were initially blamed for the disaster but engineers subsequently established that a damaged culvert was the primary cause of the sinkhole and replacing it would have prevented the tragedy.
Local residents were aware of drainage problems on that section of the highway and warned officials about the damaged culvert but no action was taken to repair or replace it.
Appearing before the Chamber of Deputies yesterday, Morena party legislator Concepción Villa pressed Ruiz to take personal responsibility for the tragedy.
“In accordance with society’s perception, you are the main culprit for the July 12 tragedy. Do you agree with that? . . You should have resigned,” she said.
Ruiz responded that his primary responsibility is to oversee the country’s national infrastructure program and that he couldn’t be held accountable for the “very unfortunate” accident.
“The role of the secretary . . . is way beyond what has happened,” he said.
He added that the Secretariat of Public Administration (SFP) is currently working to determine what responsibility officials and companies that worked on the project may have, and stressed that he and other officials of the Communications and Transportation Secretariat (SCT) had fully cooperated with the investigation.
Furthermore, its findings and any sanctions it imposes would be respected, he said.
Ruiz also denied that favoritism had been a factor in awarding contracts to the firms Grupo Higa and OHL México as has been alleged. The former doesn’t have a single contract with the SCT, he said, while the latter was awarded contracts in a public tendering process that has been audited by the Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF).
Two weeks after the fatal accident, Ruiz conceded that there were errors and neglect on the part of federal employees and private contractors. Morelos Governor Graco Ramírez also said that he warned both Ruiz and President Enrique Peña Nieto that the highway wasn’t ready and asked them to postpone its opening.
Ruiz and Ramírez have engaged in a blame game over who is ultimately responsible for the defects in the highway, which had only been open for a matter of months when the sinkhole appeared.
Shortly after the incident, Ruiz also said that he would step down from his cabinet position if the president asked him to do so. No such request was made.
Ruiz announced during his appearance that the Paso Express would reopen on December 10 when the entire 14.5-kilometer stretch will be in “perfectly serviceable” condition.
Work is currently under way on a new culvert run beneath the section where the sinkhole appeared. Work on a new viaduct, or bridge, to carry that stretch of highway is also in progress. The National Water Commission (Conagua) is supervising the project in conjunction with the SCT.
With a capacity of 50 cubic meters per second, the culvert will have a capacity six times greater than the one it is replacing. A Conagua subdirector said that water which flows through the Santo Cristo ravine will now be able to pass freely from one side of the highway to the other, even in times of heavy rain.
“. . . This hydraulic infrastructure will give certainty and security to all motorists that cross the bridge and the residents situated in neighboring areas . . .” Víctor Alcocer Yamanaka said.