Friday, January 06, 2006

Viaduct 1 down for the count 

As most of you are probably already aware the Viaduct number 1 has been closed to all traffic and the Caracas-La Guaira highway is effectively closed. This is very bad news for Venezuela.

Here is what happened. As I mentioned earlier in the week, the viaduct had been in serious trouble for some time now with some of its support beams being undercut by land sliding down the side of the ravine which it spans. To try to save it the original supporting beams had been cut and new ones put in its place. While initially successful that effort has now failed. The reason being that the slow motion landslide has now accelerated and is even pushing down the replacement support columns. There have been very heavy rains recently which may have contributed to the acceleration of this process. The end result is that Wednesday night the Viaduct moved out of place another 26 centimeters and the road surface developed large cracks. With this it had to be closed and will probably never re-open.

Looking at this picture one can see how distorted the original supporting colums were. But that isn't the problem - they had already been cut. It is the new supporting columns to either side that are now starting the same slide down the mountain. Note metal scaffolding to the left side and you can see that it too is now distorted. The vaiduct moved even more over Thursday night and it has now been closed to even pedestrian traffic.

In addition to indicating the definitive demise of this viaduct this also indicates the replacement to it will have to be creative. They can't simply build a simliar viaduct right next to it as ultimately the same thing will happen to it. So although that would be the easiest and quickest solution it would be an irresponsible one. So they will have to either come up with some original design that won't be effected by these slow motion landslides or build a bridge with supports that can somehow withstand them.

But before any of that happens there is a huge mess. The main route now between Caracas and the coast is an old two lane road which cannot handle this amount of traffic. It is also in a state of disrepair and parts of it are also collapsing. During the day they are allowing only passenger traffic on it in both directions. At night it is for the exclusive use of cargo trucks in one direction only with different directions on alternating nights. The only saving grace there is that this happened after the time of peak imports before Christmas so cargo traffic is fairly light right now.

These alternate routes are of little use to the people who communeted into Caracas on a daily basis from the cost. They will probably have to find temporary shelter in Caracas to continue with their jobs. The tourist areas on the coast will certainly be devestated. So there will be adverse economic impact from this. And all this with the knowledget that a temporary replacement bridge won't be ready for at least another month. All in all, this, while not catostrophic, is certianly bad news that could have been averted if the government had acted with more foresite.


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