Climate Change, Development & Aid, Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

MEXICO: Road Construction Runs Counter to Climate Efforts

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Aug 12 2010 (IPS) - Every morning, Mexican biologist Luis Zambrano walks with his daughter to her school, less than a kilometre from his house, in the Magdalena Contreras district, located in the southwest of the Mexican capital.

“But if the Western Superhighway is built, we’d have to go by car, and that would take longer,” Zambrano told IPS.

Like road projects under way in many Mexican cities, this five-kilometre route — planned by the leftist government of Mexico City — would only encourage use of individual cars, and cause environmental damage, say experts and community activists.

In addition are the subsidies to the automobile industry coming from the national government of conservative President Felipe Calderón.

“It forces people to use private cars. In my city, I can’t do anything without my car. They have created bedroom communities that then need transportation routes,” said Bárbara Jacob, member of the Citizens Council on the Environment in the central city of Santiago de Querétaro.

According to government figures, Mexico annually emits 715.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, one of the principal gases responsible for climate change.

Sixty percent of those emissions come from the production and consumption of energy, including transportation, 14.4 percent from waste management, 9.9 percent from deforestation, 8.9 percent from industrial processes and 6.4 percent from agriculture.

Mexican transportation in particular emits about 134 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

In 2007, car manufacturing generated 140,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, according to calculations by Luis Conde, of the National Institute of Ecology, made at the request of IPS. The main energy source for the industry is electricity — 71 percent of total energy inputs.

“The new routes create traffic jams. It’s been proven that they lead to more traffic than there was before the additional road construction,” Gerardo Moncada, an expert in sustainable transportation, told IPS.

Some 20 million vehicles are on Mexico’s roads, with approximately four million in the capital.

The Mexico City government, headed by Marcelo Ebrard of the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), began work Aug. 1 on the Western Superhighway at a cost of 489 million dollars. Drivers will pay a toll to use the route, which will connect the metropolitan area’s southwestern districts.

The city government expropriated land to build the roadway, tunnels and bridges. In response, people in nearby neighbourhoods have filed for legal protection to halt the construction.

In parallel, President Calderón announced in late June the gradual elimination of the property tax on new vehicles, a decision that environmental groups say will only encourage the use of individual cars.

As a result of the economic crisis that began in 2008 in the United States and spread around the globe, in 2009 the Mexican government paid some 2.12 billion dollars in subsidies to the automotive industry.

In the central city of Morelia, capital of Michoacán state, 300 kilometres from Mexico City, the state government plans to build a four-km extension to a highway in order to connect a shopping centre to residential areas. The road would affect Loma de Santa María, one of the region’s main water reservoirs.

“It would be built over a geological fault and its social benefit is doubtful. Furthermore, the Loma de Santa María is the main source of water for the area,” Tonatiuh Martner, a researcher at the public Autonomous National University of Mexico, said in comments to IPS.

In the city of Guadalajara, 542 km northwest of the national capital, the panorama is not much different from other Mexican urban areas. The state administration wants to build an expressway — 23 km of elevated road that ecologists say would threaten a nearby park.

Activists point to the irony that Guadalajara will host the International Congress Towards Carfree Cities, organised by the World Carfree Network, in 2011. The Prague-based association is dedicated to promoting alternatives to individual car use.

In response to the planned construction of the various roadways, a group of organisations created the Citizen Coalition Against Superhighways, whose logo is a series of trucks crossing a bridge and knocking down trees in their path. The coalition is studying the potential impacts of the projects and seeking measures to stop them.

In 2006, the Mexico City government built a second level to the city’s Peripheral Highway, 25 km long, in a bid to improve the flow of traffic and reduce the consumption of gasoline and production of emissions from vehicles stuck in transit bottlenecks. However, according to Moncada, those goals have not been met.

The Ebrard administration has already built two lines of the Metrobus Corridor System — a rapid transit vehicle that travels in designated lanes — and is planning another. The goal is to have 200 km of rapid transit routes by 2012.

It is also laying down a new line of the Metro Public Transportation System, 24 km long, to connect eastern and western Mexico City beginning in 2012.

Ebrard heads the World Mayors Council on Climate Change, which will hold a summit in November in the Mexican capital. Because of the Western Superhighway, neighbourhood groups will send a letter to the Council to have Ebrard removed from the post.

“The mitigation measures are not enough. If a project like this is done right, it isn’t done at all, a colleague once told me,” said Zambrano, whose neighbourhood is adorned with posters that seem to shout: “No to the Superhighway!”

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