A highway in Oaxaca that will slash travel times between Oaxaca city and the southern state’s Pacific coast is expected to open in December, after 20 years of delays and failed attempts.
President López Obrador announced in his regular morning news conference on Wednesday that he wanted to inaugurate the highway before the end of the year. Once in operation, it will link the state capital to the popular tourist destination of Puerto Escondido, cutting travel times from six to 2 1/2 hours.
The president said 75% of the highway had been completed, a more modest estimate than the 80.2% confirmed by Governor Alejandro Murat in June. López Obrador conceded to “a few problems” in the highway’s construction, something of an understatement for a project which has been delayed by land disputes, seen successive administrations come and go and faces claims of financial mismanagement.
An audit by the Federal Auditor’s Office (ASF) on an 805 million peso (US $39 million) investment in the project last year through the state-owned development bank Banobras revealed a probable 88 million peso ($4.3 million) blow to the Oaxaca state treasury.
The ASF report, published on June 14, said the state’s funds had been spent on a 43 kilometer stretch of the highway. It attributed the financial irregularity to “deficient management of work suspensions, the deficient supervision of works and excessive payments.” The ASF highlighted eight cases for which it encouraged some form of punishment of state workers.
The report said two work contracts were activated amid legal complications around construction, which led to delays, meaning nonrefundable sums were spent on machinery and equipment over two periods between April 2020 and September 2021.
Tangentially, in the Wednesday news conference, the president also confirmed that improvement works had been approved on a highway running from Ixtepec, in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, some 450 kilometers through Chiapas to the Guatemala border.
López Obrador added that rail cars were being bought for the Isthmus rail line, which he said would have both cargo and passenger trains. The line, which is being rehabilitated between Ixtepec and Ciudad Hidalgo, Chiapas, with some 459 kilometers of tracks as well as 12 stations, is part of the trans-isthmus trade corridor project, touted as a potential rival to the Panama Canal.