Since the collapse of the Scenic toll road in 2013, maintaining the famous Baja highway has become a huge drain on federal resources
By Marco Flores | ZETA
Repairing the badly damaged section of highway required the investment of nearly one billion pesos in 2014 – approximately 80 million dollars at the time – and the extensive project took over a year. “And in spite of all the work and money invested, the threat of another collapse is still very real,” according to the president of the Ensenada College of Civil Engineers (CICE), Fabián René Ibarra López.
A review of public records from the National Infrastructure Fund (Capufe) shows that the Tijuana-Ensenada highway currently ranks third in Mexico in terms of costs for major maintenance, with all of those funds being spent only at Kilometer 92, near the site of the collapse zone from 2013.
While the scenic highway continues to receive hundreds of millions of pesos in federal resources targeted for major maintenance, the alternate route project (bypass) for now has been put aside; a 23.5-kilometer stretch that would run from the Bajamar area to the Tijuana-Ensenada and Tecate-Ensenada free road highways and ending at the beginning of the Ensenada Bypass.
According to the Ensenada Municipal Strategic Plan (PEME) study prepared by the Ensenada Economic Development Council and the Ensenada City Council, the investment required to build the alternate route the Scenic toll road would amount to about 2.7 billion pesos, or nearly the equivalent of what Capufe invested in the entire country in 2020.
Currently, there just doesn’t seem to be enough political support to take on the costly project.
RISK OF ANOTHER SLIDE REMAINS
The scenic highway was built in an unstable seismic area of the northern Baja Pacific coastline, opening to traffic in 1967.
A few years later, several researchers would begin voicing their concerns, including Alejandro Aguado Sandoval of the Engineering Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), who began to point out evidence of visible cracks in the road that were observed as early as 1976 and near an area where several nearby houses were destroyed by landslides that occurred in 1995.
Aguado Sandoval himself recalled that in 1997 a section of the road had to be completely rebuilt, due to a new landslide.
Several local government officials in addition to business and academic institutions had expressed their concerns about the potential risk in that area of the highway and the resulting problems that would follow if traffic were interrupted.
According to numbers from the Ensenada Business Coordinating Council, fifteen people died in car accidents on the Tijuana-Ensenada Free Highway from December 2013 to December 2014, largely due to the increase in vehicular traffic on said road due to the closure of the scenic toll road where the daily vehicle traffic increased between five to ten fold.
Despite the billionaire investments in the highway, “the risk of a new collapse is still very real,” said the president of the Ensenada College of Civil Engineers, Fabián René Ibarra López.
He referred to the work that was done at Kilometer 91, which “definitely did not work where at the curve it failed again; all the money that was invested in that slide area was wasted.”
At the areas where maintenance work is being carried out, ongoing failures and subsidence are becoming more and more frequent.
“The truth is that a lot of money has been invested and the road is still not safe for local traffic, visitors and heavy traffic. With all the money spent on the rehabilitation work up until now, the free road highway project could have at least been completed by now”, concluded Ibarra.