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By Lisa Flueckiger, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The enlargement of the road stretch at the Joá including two tunnels is taking shape with 55 percent of the works concluded so far. The enlarged highway, which is part of the infrastructure improvements for the 2016 Olympic Games, will increase the capacity of the road between São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca by 35 percent, making it easier to travel from the Zona Sul (South Zone) to the main Olympic sites in Barra.

The first tunnel at the São Conrado end has been excavated, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
The first tunnel at the São Conrado end has been excavated, photo courtesy of Cidade Olimpica.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes is expected to announce the termination of the excavation of the first tunnel, the one in São Conrado, today (June 16th). The tunnel is 210m long and will afterwards just need some finishing touches.

In July, the excavation of the second tunnel, the Joá with an extension of 430m, should finish as well. This will mean the end of the daily road closures, as currently the road closes for around thirty minutes every day at 2PM and 9:45 PM for explosions in the tunnel. However, the closure between 11PM and 5AM will remain.

For the new elevado do Joá highway, which will be 1,100m long, twelve of the final 27 pillars have already been built, as well as five of the 120 support beams.

The entire road stretch with tunnels and highway is expected to be completed in early 2016. Construction on the bottleneck, which is the only viable way to drive from Zona Sul to Barra da Tijuca, had started in June 2014 and went fast ahead, with the use of explosives speeding up the drilling process of the tunnels.

Twelve of the 27 pillars for the Elevado do Joá have been constructed, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News
Twelve of the 27 pillars for the Elevado do Joá have been constructed, photo courtesy of Cidade Olimpica.

The project costs R$457.9 millions and has 1,200 workers constructing it, 960 of them with experience in canyoning, mountaineering or similar.

However, some doubts about the new road stretch remain. The Community Chamber in Barra da Tijuca, fears that the bottleneck between Gávea/Lagoa and São Conrado remains even with the enlarged stretch at the Joá.

“Barra is being strangled. We need to improve not only the access from Barra to São Conrado, but to the rest of the South Zone as well. The solutions lie in increasing Avenida Niemeyer or the Zuzu Angel tunnel,” Delair Dumbrosck, President of the chamber, explained.

Other experts see the new road stretch more positively, but fear that it will attract increased traffic and reach its limits again very soon.

“Initially, even without running the entire project (including the enlargement until Lagoa), the circulation in the stretch will improve. However, if there is no investment in public transport, to discourage individuals [to use their cars], there is no way [the road] will support that for long,” José Eugenio Leal, from the Transport Department at PUC-RJ, added in O Globo.

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