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Cabrera and MTOP ignoring Azuay roads as connections to other provinces collapse

Published on March 22, 2022

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Cuenca has serious road connection problems with almost all the cities that surround it: Guayaquil, Machala, Loja and Macas.

The winter accelerated the deterioration of the roads of the Austro. In just 15 days, Azuay, the province of the Minister of Transportation and Public Works, Marcelo Cabrera, was left almost incommunicado on several fronts. So far there is no known comprehensive intervention plan for the area.

The Austro roads have become a mobility problem for its inhabitants, for the tourism and productive sector of Cuenca. They’ve also become a political problem for Minister Cabrera, since the province had high expectations of his management of the problem.

Ecuador’s third largest city has serious connection problems with almost all the nearby provincial capitals: Guayaquil, Machala, Loja and Macas.

Via Cuenca-Loja

The Cuenca-Loja road has been closed since march 8th, and not expected to open until the end of the month. The collapse of a sewer in the San Lucas sector, in Saraguro (Loja), took the road with it. Those who try to travel between the two cities must make transfers on foot through the mountains.

Cuenca-Girón-Pasaje road

This week, large landslides caused at least three partial closures of the only road that connects Azuay and El Oro, one of them at kilometer 103, which forced the total closure of traffic.

In addition, sinkholes at kilometer 39 have been reactivated, just one month after completing stabilization work.

Other areas that had been repaired in January and February have collapsed (again) and make sections of the road almost impassable.

Cuenca-Molleturo-El Empalme

This road of the Molleturo Basin, which connects Azuay with Guayas, has been closed for 40 days due to the failure of a slope at kilometer 49. Work began on March 16, 2022, after seven months of constant landslides.

To get to Guayaquil, drivers must travel through the alternate route Cuenca-Biblián-Zhud-Cochancay-El Triunfo, a journey that takes almost twice as long.

Roads to Morona Santiago

In addition, there are the roads that connect with the eastern provinces, which have been deteriorating for years. This week the Chicti-Sevilla de Oro-Méndez road was opened. At kilometer 99, a bridge was rebuilt that kept that road disabled for three months.

Gualaceo-Miracle Plan- Limón

This damaged road is open; however, its reconstruction is unfinished and without a contractor.

Sígsig-Chiguinda-Gualaquiza

This damaged road is open; however, its reconstruction is unfinished and without a contractor.

Although the current problems were unleashed by recent storms, the situation of isolation revived a historic claim that there is a lack of road attention in the Austro. Azuayans originally had high expectations by the appointment of a Cuencano to the Ministry of Transportation.

But the task of the former mayor of Cuenca, and former prefect of Azuay, never looked easy.

The day his name was announced, President Guillermo Lasso warned him that one of his first challenges would be managing resources for public works.

After 10 months of government, this lack of resources continues to be one of the main reasons why Austro highways have not yet received the necessary focus and the deterioration of the province’s roads is becoming more evident.

Attacks are being lobbed at the minister from various fronts. Politicians, carriers, entrepreneurs in the tourism sector and the productive sector demand solutions.

In the first days of March, the prefect of Cañar, Byron Pacheco, demanded “the immediate intervention” of the Ministry of Transportation and Public Works (MTOP) on the El Tambo – Ingapirca – Honorato Vázquez road.

According to the diagnosis of the Prefecture, there are landslides in a section of more than 100 meters and a geological fault, which threatens to take away that road that leads to the Archaeological Complex of Ingapirca, one of the main tourist sites in the province.

Two weeks after Pacheco’s demand, Cañar authorities met in Quito with Minister Cabrera, who promised to allocate $4,000,000 to repair that highway. In addition, he offered to maintain the roads that connect the province with Guayas and Chimborazo.

Although Pacheco appreciated the commitment made by Cabrera, he did not stop questioning the attention to the region. “We hope that in this government, the bad habit of looking at Azuay and Cañar as the last wheels of the car will end,” he emphasized in an interview with a local radio.

For Cañar, the resources are guaranteed in the Road Maintenance and Conservation Program for Results that the Ministry executes with a loan from the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF).

But Azuay is not part of that package of works, which includes seven highways from six provinces: Esmeraldas, Manabí, Chimborazo, Napo, Orellana, Sucumbíos and Cañar.

Declaration of emergency

A group of citizens, made up of local politicians, carriers and activists, last week called for the declaration of an emergency for roads in Azuay to obtain the necessary resources to repair the roads.

“We cannot continue asking for a favor that they attend to the roads of the Austro. That is why we now demand and call for a sit-in for March 28th,” said carrier Oswaldo Flores.

Luis Mario Barsallo, provincial director of the MTOP, said that “if there are no resources, it is impossible to declare an emergency.” But he announced that an injection of money offered by President Guillermo Lasso is expected.

On Tuesday, March 15th, during an interview in Carondelet, the president announced that he will allocate, in a first phase, $550 million to repair roads damaged by winter throughout the country.

When Minister Cabrera was asked how these resources will be distributed and how much money will be destined for the Austro provinces, he replied that this information will be would be announced on Monday, March 21st.

“We have made a first list of the roads that will be repaired with an initial investment of $150 million, then the rest of the resources that the president has announced will come,” said Cabrera.

Cabrera did say that the first roads to be repaired are two that have declared an emergency: Latacunga-La Maná and Ibarra-San Lorenzo, which are in the Cotopaxi and Imbabura provinces, respectively.

In contrast to what Cabrera promised, on Monday the MTOP released a statement on the work it had completed in 2021; it did not release details of how much money will be spent to repair roads in the Austro.

When pressed for more information, the MTOP sent a statement with the following message: “We have a mission as the Ministry of Transport and Public Works, which is to change the reality of the road system in the Austro and we are not going to stop in that effort.”

The current emergencies in Azuay have been attended to with the MTOP’s own resources, which has mobilized its personnel and machinery to the different trouble spots.

The largest intervention currently being carried out in the province is the stabilization of the slope on the Cuenca-Molleturo road, with an investment of $7,000,000.

For 2022, the Ministry foresees the rehabilitation of critical points of the Cuenca-Girón-Pasaje and Cuenca-Molleturo-El Empalme highway, in a second phase.

UDA identified 11 critical points

Enrique Serrano, former director of the defunct Center for Economic Reconversion of Azuay, has dedicated himself to investigating the road system in that province. He explains that, despite the lack of resources, there are actions that the MTOP could take to address these problems.

The academic says that a general strategic plan should be designed to solve the problem of the state road network. He says that we MTOP must also work on road project studies and not leave maintenance aside.

Serrano questions that resources are not prioritized to intervene in the Austro, despite the importance of connectivity in this area. “We are becoming isolated from the Coast and this is serious for the economy.”

In 2021, the University of Azuay identified 11 critical points in the province to be incorporated into the Central Government’s road maintenance and conservation program.

The University’s report placed emphasis on three sections that are considered the most important: the Cuenca-Molleturo-Puerto Inca road; the Machala-Pasaje-Cumbe road and the Chicti-Sevilla de Oro-Santiago de Méndez section.

More specifically, the report says that “there are interprovincial zones that have a high degree of integration of economic and social activities with the provinces of Guayas and El Oro, which makes these highways essential for productivity and commercial exchange.”

2 Comments

  1. Yesterday (march 23)I drove back from Vilcabamba to Cuenca and it took 10 hours. we had to wait over four hours to drive a very tricky detour through the mountains just to connect back to Saraguro. It was possible to get through but a very very long day.

    Reply
  2. It’s a shame . Austro has a good source of income from tourism that it’s being flushed down the toilet because Mr Marcelo Cabrera isn’t paying attention
    … is he qualified for the job ? Or was he picked up from the bunch of politicians that have no qualifications for the job ?

    Reply

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