By Andrew Willis, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With less than a fortnight before the starter pistol fires on London’s 2012 Olympic Games, across the Atlantic construction work has officially begun at what will be a key venue for the global sporting event in four years time. Officials gathered in Rio’s western neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca earlier this month (July 6th) to lay the foundation stone of the Olympic Park, a planned complex of sporting facilities that will host over half the events in 2016.
“Today is a historical day for Brazilian sport,” said Carlos Arthur Nuzman, President of the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Committee. “The Olympic Park is the heart of the Games, and after 2016 it will leave as a legacy the first Olympic Training Camp in South America.”
Standing on the shores of the Jacarepaguá Lagoon, the Olympic Park is set to occupy an area of 1.18 million square meters, hosting competitions in fourteen Olympic and nine Paralympic disciplines. The main facilities will cater for judo, basketball, tennis and wheelchair rugby, among other sports, with an additional temporary structure set to cater for water sports.
Much of the infrastructure work will be carried out by the Rio Mais consortium, a trio of construction companies (Norberto Odebrecht, Andrade Gutierrez and Carvalho Hosken). The consortium successfully won a Public-Private Partnership tender in March.
The construction works will include the building of a 400-room hotel, the main press center and three pavilions that will host the future Training Olympic Center (COT) for high-performance athletes. The consortium is also tasked with the maintenance of the area for a term of fifteen years, while additional construction works for the Games will be carried out by the Rio de Janeiro Municipality using federal funds.
The Olympic Park will be located where the Jacarepaguá car racetrack – a former Formula 1 venue – currently stands. Officials say the gradual decommissioning of the racetrack will not affect the 2012 race calendar.
In addition to the building of major sporting arenas, Rio de Janeiro’s successful bid for the 2016 Olympic Games includes a pledge to significantly improve the city’s transport infrastructure. Part of the load will be taken up by the planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – a network of new bus corridors and articulated buses that will help to shuttle the public, athletes and media across the city.
Construction work on one of four scheduled BRT lines – the Transolimpica between the Barra da Tijuca and Deodoro areas – also got underway earlier this month. Cutting across eight Rio regions, the Transolimpica is expected to decrease commuting time by roughly an hour.
Last month saw the inauguration of the Transoeste BRT line, helping to connect Barra da Tijuca to the western neighborhoods of Santa Cruz and Campo Grande. Barra da Tijuca residents are largely positive about the ongoing infrastructure works.
“People are really excited about the Olympics and proud that they will take place in our neighborhood,” says Dilan Omari, who lives in the area. “But at the same time, the increased traffic congestion is really frustrating.”