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Many Problems, Three Solutions

Accident from 2017

Vado cerrado

Vado Cieneguita

Accidente Mayo 2018

Luis Alberto Villarreal

By Jesus Aguado

Earlier this year, the man-made ford at La Cieneguita gave way to the Río Laja’s current. Daily, the El Pipila roundabout collapses during peak hours—more if an accident occurs.

These public problems that one administration has passed on to the next do have solutions—if the three levels of government collaborate to fund and construct the infrastructures that provide more than short-term answers.

Crossing the Laja with a barge and a cable

San Miguel de Allende has 27 indigenous communities as part of its municipality—the most of any city in Guanajuato State. Most of these communities are located along the shores of the Río Laja. The river, along with the basin of the Ignacio Allende Dam (inaugurated in 1969), has always marked the natural border between the rural communities of “the other side” and the urban zone. Until 14 years ago, there was no existing natural or man-made structure during the rainy season that allowed people from these communities access to the urban areas of San Miguel, and residents of these communities divided by the Laja had the following options for reaching the urban areas. The first was to swim across the river (the water could reach waist level if the current was not too strong). The second was to cross the river on a small barge that used a cable. It charged five pesos per person. Another option was to walk along the old road to Guanajuato and take a bus that crossed the levee of the Allende Dam.

Then, 14 years ago, the ford was built at the request of citizens of these communities seeking a way to cross the Laja. An ideal solution would have been a bridge, but authorities decided instead to build a ford although they knew that it was at best a short-term solution. The ford lasted far longer than expected, says the city’s current mayor.

Beyond its shelf life

The ford at La Cieneguita collapsed in July this year—thanks to advent of heavy rains necessitating the release of water from area dams—just prior to its fifteenth anniversary. Mayor Luis Alberto Villarreal, who had just become mayor of San Miguel in 2003, alleviated the needs at this site 14 years ago. Now, as the newly elected mayor, the problems there have again fallen to him to solve.

There are many ways of viewing the bridge, he said: “One way is that it collapsed after 14 years; the other is that it survived well beyond its shelf life.”

Building a crossing was an idea raised during the 2000–2003 administration, just before Villarreal became mayor for the first time. “When I took office, the government had already made its commitment. Architect Eduardo Arias had made an apparently simple proposal to solve the problem, a designed structure of tubes and earth to go underneath. When I became mayor, the tubes for this structure had already been acquired with an investment of millions.”

He pushed forward the idea he had inherited as mayor, and it later became an executive project that was never authorized by the Comisión Nacional del Agua (National Commission of Water), CONAGUA, since it was located within the basin of the Allende Dam. In addition, it did not have basic anti-flooding measures that would safeguard users. Nevertheless, the ford was built since the necessity was there.

Villarreal acknowledges that the project should never have been done. But, he told Atención, leaders of these communities came to his office one day and invited him “to come see how it was to send a barge across the river in the middle of the night. Residents of these communities were using a barge tied to a cable. We listened to the people.”

Main entryway

Over time, the ford was connected to a new state road, an act which converted the ford into a state responsibility as well. Before its collapse, all types of vehicles could cross it, but it was never maintained by CONAGUA, said Villarreal, adding, “because of bad management of the waters in the Laja River and other areas,” the ford collapsed.

Not only that, but bad management by CONAGUA also meant that runoff from the Allende Dam affected automobile plants in the Apaseos (Apaseo el Alto and Apaseo el Grande) and Celaya. The ford “was a disaster that finished off something which had complications from the beginning,” Villarreal said.

A state bridge for locals

Now the municipality has done what is expected of it: it has presented a project proposal to the state government for an actual bridge, following CONAGUA norms. Now the state must make it happen—and pay for it. “It is no longer a municipal ford. It has turned into a state access road, and we are asking that it be fixed,” said Villarreal.

The bridge would not just be for people who visit San Miguel. It is in fact primarily meant for those who live on the other side of the Laja, who come to the city for work, education, or family emergencies. The proposed bridge would be constructed south of the currently collapsed work.

Atención asked Villarreal if this bridge would happen in the next three years (the new administration’s term). “There’s great resolve from the governor, Diego Sinhue, for this to happen,” he said. He will work hard to make the bridge a reality, he said. “If it does not happen, I will walk with the people from the rural communities all the way to Guanajuato until we get the bridge. I have no doubt it will become a reality.”

Public works project # 2

Both spectacular and insignificant accidents routinely happen in the El Pípila traffic circle, a project built during the 2000–2003 mayoral administration. Later, during the 2006–2009 term, a third lane was added, coming from El Caracol.

Over two mayoral administrations, between 2012 and 2018, the Libramiento Manuel Zavala was amplified from two to four lanes, and that has increased traffic flow. Thus, in the past 15 years, it has seen use jump from 40,000 vehicles per day to 120,000. Accidents there generate traffic jams that almost paralyze the roads, which alternately lead to Celaya, Dolores Hidalgo, and Querétaro. The wider Libramiento has also made the roadway more attractive to heavy-load vehicles, which are the source of many of these accidents that stop traffic for up to eight hours at a time.

Now an idea to ameliorate this problem is being discussed: an underpass beneath the Libramiento Manuel Zavala. The underpass could cost more than one hundred million pesos to build. The idea would be to restrict heavy-load traffic to either the underpass or possibly the existing road.

Concerns have been raised about possible flooding issues with the proposal, but Villarreal said that there are cities with major roads at sea level and that if San Miguel wants to be the best city in México and in the world, the work must be done correctly.

Seven kilometers of road

Regarding the underpass, Villarreal said that hydraulic engineering planning is well underway but preferred not to give a start date at the moment. However, he did not discard the possibility of a 2019 start date. “The government is committed. I do not want to announce it now because I don’t like to tell lies, but we are going to do it.”

Public works project # 3: a beltway and toll road

Another project under consideration is a proposed beltway that would cross the Glorieta Patrimonio all the way to the road to Celaya.

Even now, stated the mayor, there is already work to free up the land for the beltway (he did not give details), which he said would alleviate 50 percent of the traffic over El Pípila roundabout). The beltway would be a toll road.


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