By Nelson Belen, Contributing Writer
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – As the 2016 Olympics are under fifty days away, the latest in the series of revitalization projects in the city’s port zone opened this past Sunday, June 19th, with Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes inaugurating the Marcello Alencar tunnel. The new tunnel, named after one of Rio’s former mayors, is now the longest underground tunnel in Brazil at 3,370 meters.
The tunnel replaces the Elevado da Perimetral highway which ran along the Guanabara Bay waterfront as part of the Porto Maravilha works. The demolishing of the highway in November 2013 paved the way for not only the Marcello Alencar tunnel, but also new public squares, walkways, and bike paths, as well as the new light rail transit system, the VLT.
The tunnel connects with Via Expressa (Via Expressway) near Armazém 8 (Warehouse 8) at Avenida Rodrigues Alves on one end and stretches out to Avenida General Justo near Santos Dumont Airport on the other. The longest underground tunnel in the country, its deepest depth reaches 46 meters below sea level. The tunnel is also equipped with 105 security cameras.
Government authorities expect the tunnel to provide an efficient way to travel from the Rio-Niterói bridge all the way to the Aterro do Flamengo. Each direction of the tunnel has three lanes and has the capacity to move 50,000 cars daily.
At Sunday’s inauguration ceremony, attended by numerous public officials and dignitaries, Mayor Paes officially opened one half of the tunnel, going in the direction of Aterro de Flamengo, with the other half opening in three weeks. “I am very grateful to the people who were able to understand the importance of Rio’s meeting with its history and the changes that are happening,” Mayor Paes said excitedly. “We are talking about the largest urban tunnel in the country, a raised work without any public resources.”
According to government projections, the combination of the Alencar tunnel and the Via Expressa will relieve the flow of vehicles in the Santa Bárbara and Rebouças tunnels by an estimated 20 to 30 percent during peak rush hour morning and evening times. During that peak period, this would amount to a reduction of about eight hundred vehicles in the Santa Bárbara tunnel and about seven hundred in Rebouças.
Mark Lassise, an American expatriate living in Rio for over seven years, shared, “I believe this project is going to help. I hope that the final product proves to have been made with sound engineering unlike the ciclovia along Avenida Neimeyer.” The coastal Tim Maia bike path (ciclovia) collapsed on April 21st, four months after opening, killing two and injured many others.
Lassise, who was the creator of the “Olhar Estrangeiro” (“A Foreigner’s Perspective”) series during the World Cup and currently working on “Moving the Chains” a series about American Football in Brazil, adds, “I expect this tunnel to be a well done job, Rio knows how to build tunnels probably better than most. So lets hope the longest tunnel in Brazil works the way they planned. I am looking forward to it since I live in the Zona Norte [North Zone].”
In addition to marking the opening of the new tunnel, Sunday’s ceremony was also a chance to honor the tunnel’s namesake. Marcello Alencar served as Rio’s mayor for two separate terms, from 1983 to 1986 and 1989 to 1993. Alencar, who passed away in 2014, was also the governor of Rio de Janeiro state from 1995 to 1999.
“For us it is an honor to pay tribute to a leader who took on this city in a difficult situation, as mayor,” said Mayor Paes. “Marcello Alencar loved Rio de Janeiro and its people, walking in the suburbs and regions that honored the city. A way of life that made me learn to value a lot those most in need.”
During the 2016 Olympics, Rio’s revitalized port zone will be home to several key attractions, including the Brazil hospitality house (Casa Brasil), the largest Olympic hospitality house, and the NBA House, a meeting place for basketball fans and players during the Games.