“Urgent” maintenance, as well as the need for specialized studies of each of the critical points, with the possibility of implementing variants: these are some observations of the mayors, professionals and former officials of the Ministry of Transport and Public Works (MTOP) to try to alleviate the poor condition of the Cuenca-Girón-Pasaje highway.
The road that connects Azuay and El Oro has about 140 kilometers that cross important towns such as: Girón, Santa Isabel, Pucará, (and the Yunguilla valley) among other towns in the two provinces. Strong government investment has not been enough to solve its structural problems.
The National Government contracted in 2016, for example, for an intervention at the road and pavement level that exceeded $38 million. The work was carried out by the Chinese company Sinohydro, within a package of 10 projects nationwide with a million-dollar investment.
However, it did not take long after the work was finished for potholes, subsidence, among other shortcomings that increase over the years and the passage of vehicles, especially buses and heavy transport, to appear. There is now a legal process being carried out to terminate that contractual relationship.
At present there are too conflictive areas located at the height of the Rircay, Léntag, Parque Extremo sectors, and the exit from the cantonal head of Santa Isabel, km 86, among others. The complaints of the drivers do not stop due to the damages in the road added to the lack of cleanliness and the respective signage.
The mayors of the area hope that the maintenance works announced a few months ago by Marcelo Cabrera, Minister of Transport, will begin to improve walkability.
José Miguel Uzhca, mayor of Girón, said that the economic situation of the National Government is complicated, but the road needs a definitive intervention. Uzhca said that studies are required to determine solutions. However, he believes that variants to the original route should be executed at critical points, especially those located in the Girón geological fault.
The need for critical point studies should be the next step after road maintenance. Robert Murillo, former president of the College of Architects of Azuay and Mónica Quezada, former zonal 6 deputy secretary of the MTOP both agree on that.
Murillo said that the Cuenca-Girón-Pasaje road has a layout problem because it crosses areas with geological faults. Immediate actions are required such as a repair with a primary construction (patching), as well as medium-term actions such as studies of the critical points that give a new road axis, and in the long term, the construction of these new routes.
Quezada, who was in charge of the zonal 6 sub-secretariat of the MTOP between 2018 and 2019, stated that in 2016 when Sinohydro was hired for the intervention of the highway, it was done in three sections that didn’t include 25 critical points located, especially from km 50 to km 90. “The only maintenance and replacement of the road was carried out at the level of the road, gutters, water passages,” she said.
Quezada pointed out that the area is very vulnerable and with a complex geological composition that requires a detailed study of each of the critical points so that the works that can be undertaken last longer. “If the studies had been in place at that time of all the critical points, perhaps none of the works would have been carried out,” she said.
Last Friday, the MTOP awarded to the Asfaltar EP Company, of the Provincial Government of Azuay, the maintenance of 13 critical points from km 13 to 60, and with an investment of about one million dollars. It is planned to carry out another intervention in critical points from km 60 onwards with the aim of improving traffic conditions, in 2022.
Carolina Ormaza, vice minister of Infrastructure and Public Works, said that next year specialized engineering studies of the road will be carried out in order to start a concession process. “We are going to do all the corresponding studies so that the concessionaire can make its investments and keep the road in good condition,” added Ormaza.
Regarding the contractual link with the Sinohydro company, which is still in force because it is part of the macro-project, the deputy minister said that they are in the final stage and hope to solve the matter in the remainder of the year.
The lack of resources is the main problem to attend the roads of the Austro and the country. This was expressed by Paúl Granda, former Minister of Transportation, who pointed out that a highway also requires a management model, “when we were in the Ministry, we identified that the country’s road network required a management model that guarantees economic and financial sustainability as well as the permanent maintenance of the tracks.”
Granda said that in 2017 a management model was developed -depending on the annual average traffic- and a set of road axis “that could be maintained by themselves” was determined through public-private alliances (tolls). In the case of Azuay, the Cuenca-Girón-Pasaje was identified.
The former minister believes that an update of the annual average traffic should be carried out on this road to corroborate the sustainability of a toll system, in addition to investing in initial maintenance and identifying critical points.
Construction of the southern access to Cuenca
To move forward, the MTOP also must define – as soon as possible- the construction of the southern access to Cuenca, which is important for the Cuenca-Girón Pasaje road. The studies for access were prepared by the public company of the University of Cuenca with an investment of about $4 million.
The administration of former President Lenín Moreno awarded the work to the Hidalgo-Hidalgo company. The current government administration has not yet signed the contract with this company.
Murillo believes that the southern access will have a toll that will generate resources for the maintenance of that road that should be “tied” to the care of the Cumbe-Girón-Pasaje section as well.
Mónica Quezada said, “What the MTOP should do is proceed with the socialization of what the management model is and the possible investments to be implemented with all the actors involved.”
Carolina Ormaza, Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Public Works feels that the provision of Marcelo Cabrera, Minister of Transport, has been that the signing of the contract be reviewed technically, legally, and socially.
Ormaza said that in the legal field, an approach was made to the State Attorney General’s Office for “certain observations” at the pre-contractual stage. Also, socially with the residents of the areas involved, where there are also problems due to expropriations since there is not a total update by the Municipality of Cuenca on the cadastral appraisal.
The vice minister hopes this month to define the pending situations to know the future of the southern access project.