By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Monday, March 6th, Rio’s Public Ministry revealed it is opening an investigation into the exorbitant use of state funds to maintain the Metro Line 4’s Gávea construction project, which has been inactive for almost a year.

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The Metro Line 4 extension to Gávea has been on hold since April 2016, photo Linha 4/Divulgação.

The revelation comes on the heels of local news reports alleging that, to date, the project’s maintenance and upkeep has cost the state R$34 million, a figure that continues to grow daily.

Based on the state’s contract with concessionaire Rio Barra SA, approximately R$29 million so far has been related solely to the maintenance of an advanced tunnel boring machine made by German company Herrenknecht. The massive drill, affectionately nicknamed Tatuzão, is 11.5 meters high, 123 meters long and weighs almost three thousand tons.

The Rio Barra consortium, currently comprised of Odebrecht, Queiroz Galvão and Carioca Engineering, had purchased the tunnel boring machine for R$100 million.

Despite the large investment, Tatuzão has sat mostly idle under Rua Igarapava in Alto Leblon since April 2016. Further, efforts to protect the machine during this idle period have been burning through state funds at a rate of R$2.9 million per month.

“The machine is protected, does not suffer so much from the elements, which helps to preserve it. Even so, it needs care, cleaning,” explained Juan Manuel Altstadt, Director of Herrenknecht, to O Globo.

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The German Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM), known as the “Tatuzão”, was used in the construction of the tunnel of the new Metro Line 4, photo courtesy of Linha 4.

According to Altstadt, the machine is very much like a car in that it must be periodically used to avoid damaging many of its complex parts. “Some components need to be powered on or set in motion so that the mechanical parts do not rest on one spot for a long time,” he explained.

After nearly twenty years in the making, Rio’s Metro Line 4, connecting Ipanema and Leblon with Barra da Tijuca opened on August 1st, days before the start of the Rio 2016 Games.

The new Line’s original plans called for an extension that would also reach Gávea, but as early as 2014, officials stated that the Gávea extension would not be ready in 2016, and perhaps not even 2017.

Before coming to a halt in early 2016, about forty percent of the excavation for the extension between Leblon and Gávea had been completed with an additional 1.2 kilometers left to go.

Prior to being elected mayor, Marcelo Crivella pledged to “assure the state that the Gávea subway station is in operation by the end of 2017.” Soon after taking office, in January, Mayor Crivella set up a commission, made up of representatives from five municipal bodies, to research ways for Rio’s City Hall to assist in the state in completing the extension “in the shortest possible time”.

In a statement on Monday, Rio State Transportation Secretary, Rodrigo Vieira, did not comment specifically on the upcoming Public Ministry inquiry and only repeated previous assertions that the government is seeking an additional R$500 million to complete the extension.

The agency also did not clarify whether that amount would increase due to the extension’s construction delays and reported maintenance costs.

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