The Paso Express before the sinkhole, left, and after. The Paso Express before the sinkhole, left, and after.

Viaduct planned for Paso Express ravine

Solution announced while federal, state authorities swap blame for sinkhole

As federal authorities and those in the state of Morelos are busy blaming each other for the Cuernavaca Paso Express disaster that killed two people July 12, plans are being drawn up for a new viaduct, or bridge, to carry the stretch of highway where a sinkhole appeared.

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Transportation officials announced yesterday that a 48-meter-long viaduct would be built over the Santo Cristo Ravine, avoiding the need to strengthen retaining walls and deal with drainage problems. The highway will remain at the same level, but supported by concrete pillars instead of fill.

The SCT said the highway’s contractors, Aldesa and Epccor, will build the viaduct which will be paid for out of a performance bond and insurance. No cost estimates were given for the new work, which is anticipated to take 10 weeks.

Five lanes of the highway will remain open throughout the construction period.

The federal government, through its national Civil Protection agency chief, on Monday charged that the state government knew there were risks with the new highway, but did not act in a timely manner to do anything about them.

Luis Felipe Puente Espinosa recalled that several months ago the federal government had instructed the state to take the necessary precautions for the upcoming rainy season. He pointed out that according to law, all emergency prevention and response measures in the area where the sinkhole had appeared were its “immediate and direct” responsibility.

He said it was the obligation of the state and municipal governments to “investigate, study and evaluate natural and human-made risks and damages that could create an emergency or disaster . . . .”

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In the case of the area where the sinkhole appeared, the state government should have applied security measures such as the complete isolation of the affected area as well as the suspension of all work, activities and services.

Puente said according to information made public by news outlets, the state Civil Protection office “was aware of the imminent risk” which “demanded immediate action in the face of the high probabilities of adverse effects.”

The letter echoes the stand taken by the federal Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) on the weekend, when it too blamed the state government for not closing traffic on the three-month-old highway despite knowing there were drainage problems in the area where the sinkhole appeared.

Puente’s counterpart in Morelos fired back today, declaring the state had acted “with absolute responsibility” to issue timely warnings of risks it had detected during the highway’s construction. Those warnings began last year, he wrote.

The SCT’s state delegate, he said, had been advised of construction failings and that a culvert under the highway had not been replaced, despite being some 40 years old.

The delegate was fired the day after the sinkhole appeared.

The SCT was was responsible for building the 10-lane, 14.5-kilometer highway. Its original contracted cost was just over 1 billion pesos, but overruns pushed that figure up to 2.2 billion.

Opposition politicians have called for the head of SCT chief Gerardo Ruiz Esparza but he has said the decision over whether he should remain in his post is President Enrique Peña Nieto’s to make.

Source: Milenio (sp), Excélsior (sp)

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