September 01, 2002

Will The ‘Segundo Piso’ Crumble Under Its Own Weight?

The likely outcome of more road construction is all too often repeated with all too familiar results. The new roadways quickly fill up with induced traffic, while public transport is left in more traffic with less available investment for improvement. Because only 20% of Mexico City residents use private automobiles, the huge price tag of the project makes it inherently unjust.

While the budget for the first phase of the Segundo Piso was US$ 150 million, all of the bidders submitted proposals far exceeding this amount.

The region’s frequent earthquake danger also creates a significant safety risk with elevated roadways. Additionally, the aesthetics of an unsightly second deck raises other concerns. Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, recently visited Mexico City makes this point with, “There are two ways of effectively destroying a city and urban life: one is a nuclear explosion and the other is the construction of elevated highways.”

Ms. Claudia Sheinbaum, the city’s environmental Secretary, has publicly supported the project while even admitting that it will lead to more traffic. Ms. Sheinbaum defended her position by saying, “Mexico City is so densely populated right now, our traffic and congestion problems are so bad, that we have to have more roads.

You can only expand one of two ways: expropriate land for more streets, ripping up trees and waterways, or build a second floor for the highways.” It is unclear why improving public transport and non-motorized transport options did not figure in Ms. Sheinbaum’s considerations.

The May 23 edition of the Economist magazine painted Mayor Obrador’s project as more a political ploy for the 2006 Presidential elections rather than sound transport planning. Mayor Obrador may have been trying to woo wealthier voters at the expense of the majority who must undertake the rigors of Mexico City’s complex public transport system.

Mayor López Obrador announced that a referendum to decide the construction of the Segundo Piso would be held in October. In the mean time, a 3.5-kilometer traffic distributor at a cost of US $70 million will be built.

At the same time, there is now some light being shed on Mexico City’s transport dilemmas. On May 17, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank announced a $6.125 million grant to support a 10-year project aimed at improving the city’s air quality through transport improvements.

Fortunately, the GEF project is targeting improvements in public transport and non-motorized transport rather than massive highway projects. The total cost of the project will be $12.2 million. The project will be leveraging $4.0 million from private sector sources while the Mexican authorities will be contributing $2.4 million.

Additionally, the World Resources Institute (WRI) with funding from the Shell Foundation has also announced that it will be supporting a sustainable transport initiative in the city. WRI has opened its new Center on Transport and Environment, called EMBARQ, at its Washington headquarters with a 5-year start-up grant of $3.75 million.

WRI is currently working with Mexican authorities and local organizations to investigate such measures as improved air quality monitoring, bus rapid transit, and cycle ways.

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