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NICARAGUA
Politics stall mass transit project
Tim Rogers
8/18/2005
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Three decades after devastating earthquake, some visionaries intent on rebuilding, face political red tape.

If architect Alfredo Osorio had his way, Nicaragua would already have one of the most modern and attractive capital cities in Latin America.

The numbers have been crunched and the blueprints have been drawn for a new Managua, featuring a futuristic-looking downtown sector complete with a monorail and eight new government buildings.

The project could be constructed as little asin two years, converting Managua from a sprawling urban disaster zone (the city was leveled by a 6.2-magnitude earthquake on Dec. 23, 1972) into a leading metropolitan center, according to Osorio, Nicaragua’s primer architect.

President Enrique Bolanos commissioned the urban renewal project two years ago, and has already approved Osorio’s plans. The private banking sector has agreed to fund it, and the business sector has expressed its willingness to support downtown development.

Now, the only thing standing between the architect’s plans and groundbreaking is Congress, which — to date — has shown no interest in approving the project, condemning it to die on paper.

"Everything exists except the political will of the National Assembly," Osorio lamented. "The President supports it, the money is there, but Congress is not interested in it because they do not want to give any credit to Bolaños. It is pure egoism."

Two years ago, Osorio sent the blueprints to Congress, asking for the plan to be studied in commission, which would then be presented to Congress in the form of a bill He never received a response. In July, he resubmitted his plans, hoping for a different outcome from the legislative National Assembly’s newly elected directorate.

The US$80 million-project aims to convert a section of the capital’s dilapidated downtown area on the shore of Lake Xolotlan into a new government center, complete with a new National Assembly, seven new government ministry buildings, an eight-lane highway and two mass transit systems.

The project, which would occupy only 7 percent of a 600-square-block section of government-owned land in the center of Managua, could be paid for by redirecting the $4 million the government pays in rent annually for government buildings to pay off the bank loan required for construction. The loan could be paid off in slightly more than 20 years, according to the architect’s feasibility studies.

The idea, Osorio says, is that after the government corridor, which would extend from the Hotel Crowne Plaza to Lake Xolotlan, is completed, private businesses would invest in the surrounding area, effectively rebuilding Managua’s downtown area.

"It is truly sad that, 33 years after the quake, no one has done anything to rebuild the center of the capital," said Osorio, who has designed most of Managua’s major buildings erected in the last decade. "Managua has no downtown; it is just a bunch of highways and stores."

Quakes and earth tremors are as common to Nicaragua as the rain. August 3, 2005, Nicaraguans were awakened one early morning by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake, the second to strike the country in a month, but neither caused damage or injuries.

Since the massive 1972 quake, there have been two plans to rebuild Managua, Osorio said. One was a Mexican-designed plan in the mid 1970s, which the architect claims was completely "unrealistic." The other was an "equally unrealistic" blueprint in the early 1990s. Neither made it past the pencil and paper stage.

Estimates for rebuilding the entire downtown area are in the billions of US dollars, making it impossible to even contemplate.

However, Osorio said that by rebuilding just a condensed eight-lane swath of the former downtown, the rest of the surrounding property could be rented out to private businesses or other private development projects, bringing in added revenue from prime real estate that now is just going to waste.

The plan also calls for the construction of two mass transit systems in the new downtown area (Managua currently has no mass-transit system).

The first one would be an elevated monorail running from North to South, with six or seven Epcot Center-looking train stations along the way. The trip from the Crowne Plaza Hotel to the lake would take an estimated five minutes on the monorail.

The second mass-transit system would be an East-West electrical bus system (running on cables), known as Busway.

The Busway project, which would include 140 electrical and conventional buses along an 18.5-kilometer route, would also extend out to Managua’s free-trade zones, which employee thousands of people. The project is modeled on similar bus-transport systems in Bogota, Guatemala City, Lima, and Mexico City, and already has the endorsement of President Bolaños and Dionisio Marenco, the new Sandinista Mayor of Managua.

By implementing mass transit and redesigning Managua’s downtown area, the entire traffic flow in the capital would change and there would be less accidents as a result, Osorio forecasts.

But perhaps the most important achievement of the urban renewal plan, Osorio says, is that it would be a Nicaraguan solution to a Nicaraguan problem. It would be completely independent of foreign aid, on which the country has long grown reliant, and would help to inspire Nicaragua to build its own future and development, the architect said.

"This project would represent Nicaragua pulling itself up all by itself, and give the country inspiration to build and create," Osorio said.

Now he just has to convince the politicians.


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