By Doug Gray, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Work finally began on the long-discussed and debated new Metro underground link in Barra last week, with Governor of Rio Sergio Cabral inaugurating the project in front of the massed media. The project forms a key part of the city’s strategy for the 2016 Olympics, as well as the city’s transportation as a whole, seeking to eliminate at least some of the Barra-Zona Sul congestion that blights commuters daily.
The link to one of the four planned zones of Olympic activity – that also includes Copacabana, Maracanã and Deodoro – was an integral part of the Rio bid, and an obligation that had to be met to appease the International Olympic Committee.
Referring to the link beyond the Olympics, however, Cabral said at the ceremony: “This will provide a big legacy for the next generations. We are constructing a generation for 2016 that will have a better quality of life and will live in a better city.”
As the bulldozers moved in, the effect was more symbolic than anything extraordinary, providing the first genuine major building blocks towards the historic games, the first ever to be held in Latin America. It also provided an indication as to the city’s environmental considerations during the huge construction project, with 1,500 native plants relocated to the Botanical Gardens.
Taking the lead from the London 2012 games, the environmental impact and the legacy of the 2016 Olympics for the city are the two key recurring themes that organizers were keen to stress during the candidature.
The project is the largest undertaken since the first Metro stations were opened in 1979 and involves a fourteen kilometer link from Barra in the west to Ipanema in Zona Sul at a predicted cost of R$4 billion. The line will run from Barra to São Conrado, Gávea and Leblon before arriving in Ipanema, and it is hoped it will revolutionize the notoriously complicated transportation in the city.
Since the opening of General Osório station in Ipanema at the end of 2009, however, Metrô Rio has been repeatedly threatened with the loss of the concession if it does not dramatically improve its record regarding delays and overcrowding. The new supply of trains destined to alleviate the problems has still failed to materialize, and customers will be wondering if the system can cope with another extension and the predicted 240,000 extra passengers per day that will entail.
On Sunday, July 4th, traffic in and around Centro was brought to a standstill when Metro construction along Avenida Presidente Vargas caused huge flooding. Accidentally cutting through a fifty-centimeter pipe, half the road had to be closed as thousands of liters of water spilled out from under the concrete for several hours.