With an investment of over $20,000 million pesos (US$1.5 billion) the Durango – Mazatlan Highway represents the main infrastructure achievements of the Felipe Calderon administration. According to the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT), the main objective of the current administration is for Mexico to become the most important logistic platform in North America.
This highway is considered by the Federal Government as the most important project in terms of road infrastructure. It will unify the Pacific with the northern central region of Mexico and after that with the Gulf of Mexico. It will be 230 km in length, with 63 tunnels, 115 structures and there will be the awesome Baluarte Bridge rising to a height of 394 meters or about 1,400 feet.
The new highway will cross the Sierra Madre Occidental and will be constructed according to the highest standards and specifications. The major ‘missing piece’ remaining to be finished is the Baluarte Bicentennial Bridge. This will be the biggest cable-suspension bridge ever built in Latin America.
It is 1,124 meters long and four lanes wide. Its central span extends 520 meters. At its highest point, it is a gravity-defying 394 meters above the River Baluarte from which it takes its name. The bridge’s largest supporting pillar is 153 meters high, with a base measuring 18 meters by 30 meters. The Baluarte Bridge alone requires an investment of $2,000 million pesos (US$146 million).
The capital to build this work of art comes from the National Fund for Infrastructure (FONADIN) and by the Mazatlan – Durango Trust. All of the budget increases have been absorbed by the Federal Government. The Mazatlan – Durango Highway has recorded a 33% increase in the budget. This increase was required because of the scope of the project which created improved infrastructure and quality throughout the proposed routing.
When completed in 2012, the Baluarte River Bridge will not only be the highest bridge in North America but also the highest cable-supported bridge in the world surpassing the Millau Viaduct in France. It is the crown jewel of the greatest bridge and tunnel highway project ever undertaken on the North American continent. The Baluarte River forms the border between the states of Sinaloa and Durango.
It spans the most formidable obstacle along the route that is a gorge more than a quarter mile high at one point. To cross it, the Mexican engineers decided to go with a cable-anchored bridge. This allows the construction to proceed outward from a single tower on either side of the canyon, thereby avoiding the difficult and expensive construction of temporary supports.
It will also have the longest span of any cable stayed bridge in North America and will exceed the John James Audubon Bridge in St. Francisville, Louisiana by 123 feet (37 meters). The structure is supported by 152 steel suspenders, features a 520 meter central span and has four lanes suspended at a height of more 400 meters. It’s taller than the 324 meter Eiffel Tower in France.
The Durango – Mazatlan – Highway will allow the reduction of travel time between the two cities from 6 hours to 2.5 hours. According to Juan Alberto Monter, Undersecretary for Infrastructure and Communications and Transport Secretariat of the Federal Government, it will be inaugurated sometime before the second semester of 2012. Also, the Durango–Mazatlan highway positions Mazatlan as a more competitive port for shipments to and from the industrial zones of northern Mexico as well as the southern regions of the U.S.
By cutting a safer, more direct route through the mountains, the Highway Department of Mexico hopes to improve trade and increase tourism between the City of Durango and the coastal City of Mazatlan. To achieve this more efficient connection, the Mexican engineers were forced to design a highway with no less than 63 tunnels, a number nearly 10 times more proportionally to the highway length, than have ever been built on any road in North America. For big bridge fans, the highway is no less amazing with a parade of towering concrete beam bridges.
Including Baluarte, there will be eight bridges exceeding 90 meters (300 feet) in height including the Santa Lucia, Neverías, La Pinta, Chico, Botijas, Pueblo Nuevo and El Carrizo structures. Only China’s West Hurong and Kunming-Guiyang and Italy’s A3 highways have a greater collection of high bridges.
When completed, the Baluarte Bridge will be more than just a preeminent bridge but a signal to its bigger neighbor to the North that Mexico can design and build bridges with the same skill and perfection as the best in the world. As a stretch of North American pavement without parallel, the Durango-Mazatlan highway will become a proud and very prominent symbol of Mexico’s civil engineering skills for decades to come.
President Felipe Calderon explains it this way: “Megaworks such as the Baluarte Bridge meet the challenge of providing more and better road links for the country. They will also bring people closer to their destinations. This is something that will facilitate trade and enable Mexico to take advantage of its privileged geographical position through improved infrastructure and logistic capacity.”
During the first year of the highway’s operation, it is forecast that an average of 3,000 vehicles will be traveling it daily. This is a total estimated to increase to 6,000 in the next six years with several lane expansions projected to be done in the near future, according to Mexico’s SCT.
This highway, which also forms part of the Mazatlan-Matamoros highway axis, will reduce travel time between the two cities by about six hours for transport hauls. The new bridge will help connect the country more efficiently and provide an access route for communities facing isolation caused by long distances.
The constant modernization of the Mexican routes, thanks to the public and private sectors, has helped make Mexico highly competitive in establishing companies whose market is the U.S. According to figures from the SCT, in 2009 Mexican freeways transported 450.9 million tons of products. During the same period railroads shipped 90.3 million tons. The highway network transported nearly 60% of the merchandise circulating through the country, while 12% was sent by rail.
According to the National Development Bank (Banobras), Mexico is currently developing more highway projects most countries in the world, with ten projects presently underway.
Projects such as the Occidente and Pacífico Norte highway packages, as well as the Irapuato Highway in Guanajuato state as well as the Chihuahua interchange mean the country has more active highway tenders than the United States, which only has nine, and Brazil, with seven.