Friday, April 01, 2022

when tunnels trump roads

Last week I drove friends to Puerto Vallarta. They were flying home to Canada.

When I moved to this area of Mexico, the highway to Puerto Vallarta, 200, was a challenge. Narrow. Lots of blind curves. And traffic that would range from tractor slow to Ferrari fast. The type of drive that brings out the Stirling Moss in a lot of us.

The quality of the highway has greatly changed. Even I would have to admit that it has improved. Newly-paved. Widened. Plenty of passing spaces.

The only mosquito in the tortilla soup are two mountain patches. The first is just south of Puerto Vallarta where the road is simultaneously steep, serpentine, and narrow. Buses and trucks regularly constipate the flow of traffic.

The second is a similar stretch just north of Melaque where the road has exactly the same characteristics. It seems odd that the work done between El Tuito and La Manzanilla did not include the most problematic stretches of the drive between Barra de Navidad and Puerto Vallarta. After all, it is the main north-south highway on the Pacific coast of Mexico -- starting at Tepic and heading south to the Guatemala border.

As it turns out, something is being done. At least about the switchback section of road between Melaque and La Manzanilla.

Today, of all days, the Mexican federal government announced that that section of road was not improved during the last 5-years of construction because there has always been another plan on the books.

When the new bypass to Highway 80 was built, the highway designers intended it would be extended to join Highway 200 just north of La Manzanilla and it would essentially be a straight road. That did not seem possible because the same mountain spur that hosts the current road is as crooked as -- well, you can add your favorite target here.

Everything was made clear in today's official announcement. The road (the red line on the map) is almost straight because it does not go over the mountain; it goes under the mountain.

Taking a lesson from Swiss, French, and Italian highway designers, Mexico has opted for the Alps option. Or a mini-Alps option. The St. Gotthard tunnel is 10.5 miles long. This project will only be about half of that.

Funding is not a problem. Pemex is flush with cash because of the increased cost of petroleum. If Mexico can build a tourist train in Yucatan to compete with Disney, it can certainly afford to tunnel through a mountain spur. After all, there are plenty of Mexican companies who are experts in tunneling.

Including the company that dug the tunnel under the lagoon from Barra de Navidad to Colimilla back in 2016 (the tunnel to somewhere). Coincidentally, that project was announced on a day similar to this day.

Now -- what could 28 December and 1 April have in common?    

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