New Durango-Mazatlán highway officially open

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Oct 172013

President Enrique Peña Nieto has officially opened the new Durango-Mazatlán highway which has taken more than a decade to complete. He inaugurated the new highway early today (17 October), Mexico’s annual “Road Workers’ Day” (“Día del Caminero”).

The new 1.2-billion-dollar, partly 4-lane, 230-kilometer highway will slash the time taken to drive from the city of Durango to the Pacific coast resort of Mazatlán, from 5 hours to about 3 hours. It is by far the single most important and complex road project in Mexico in recent years.

Mexico's major highways (Fig 17-3 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico).

Mexico’s major highways (Fig 17-3 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico). All rights reserved.

The most spectacular part of the highway is the Baluarte Bridge (Puente Baluarte), the tallest cable-stayed bridge in the world, which straddles the border between the states of Sinaloa and Durango and circumvents the need to negotiate the twisting and dangerous route taken by the old highway through the Espinazo del Diablo (Devil’s Spine). The Baluarte Bridge is a 1,124-meter-long bridge that rises almost 400 meters above the river below. The highway also includes 63 tunnels, the longest of which (El Sinaloense) is 2800 meters in length.

Durango-Mazatlan highwayThe firms involved in constructing the highway included Omega Corp, Tradeco Industrial, FCC Construcción, La Peninsular Compañía Constructora, Grupo Mexicano de Desarrollo and Grupo Hermes.

The highway has four toll booths; car drivers will pay about $500 pesos in total for a one-way trip along the entire length of the new highway. The highway is expected to carry 3,000 vehicles a day during its first year of operation, a figure expected to rise to 6,000 vehicles a day within the next six years.

Note: We are still waiting for a first-hand report from anyone who has driven the new highway. While the highway has been officially opened, at least one section of the highway is not yet open to regular traffic because of on-going repairs due to damage sustained during last month’s storms.

More photos?

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Sep 192013

An innovative aerial public transport system is being proposed in Mexico City as a way to help reduce traffic congestion and increase personal mobility. TUEP (Transporte Urbano Elevado Personalizado), a Mexican start-up, is being supported by the Federal District’s Secretariat for Science, Technology and Innovation (Seciti) and has manufacturing support from vehicle manufacturer DINA.

TUEP says that its system of aerial cabins offers more flexibility than cable cars and will save energy costs and take some vehicles off the roads, reducing emissions. It proposes a series of routes, each 5 to 10 kilometers long, linking densely populated residential areas to the city’s existing Metro and Metrobús networks.

The proposed system is fully automated. The aerial cabins, each seating two adults or an adult with two children, travel along a steel cable and can be diverted on and off the main route into a series of “docking stations” for passengers to alight or disembark. Each cabin is individually controlled by its passengers who select their destination using push button controls. This 2-minute Spanish-language Youtube news clip shows how the system works:

Each 5-kilometer stretch would be able to transport up to 5,700 passengers an hour at full capacity, at an average velocity of 4 m/s (14.4 km/hr). Cabins would travel about 10 meters (30 feet) apart, which should mean short wait times for passengers, who would pay about 6 pesos (less than 50 cents US) per trip.

Constructing the system will require posts placed every 50 meters along the route, with docking stations every 1000 meters or so. The system is being designed to be installed along avenues that currently have a median divide, so that there is minimum disruption to alternative forms of transport. According to its proponents, building TUEP lines would be at least 40% cheaper than adding additional Metrobús routes and only a fraction of the cost of expanding the city’s Metro system.

More details and images of the proposed system are offered in this 4-minute silent video:

TUEP has suggested 18 routes that are worthy of feasibility studies, which include Marina Nacional, Río San Joaquín, Taxqueña-Miguel Ángel de Quevedo, Lázaro Cárdenas, Constituyentes-Santa Fe and Eje 10. If all the proposed routes were built, the TUEP network would have a total length of 135 kilometers, and would have the capacity to handle up to 37 million trips a year.

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Aug 032013

It currently takes about 5 hours to drive from the city of Durango to the Pacific coast resort of Mazatlán, but this time will be slashed to under 3 hours once the new 1.2-billion-dollar, 4-lane, 230-kilometer highway between the cities is complete.  The Baluarte Bridge is already in place and was officially opened in January 2012, but the highway is still incomplete and not yet open. The highway is due to be completed by later this year, rainy season permitting.

This post features two videos about the Bridge. The first 4-minute video (below) is in English and is a promotional short for VSL International, one of the construction firms building the bridge. It includes footage of the amazing building techniques that were required.

The main span of the Baluarte Bridge is 520 meters in length and is 402 meters above the river (rather than the 390 m in the picture below), making it not only the tallest cable-stayed bridge in the world, but the cable-stayed bridge with the longest span in the Americas.


Puente Baluarte. Photo: TRADECO

The second video (below), first aired on National Geographic channels in Latin America, is 43 minutes long and entirely in Spanish (no subtitles). Its English-language equivalent, entitled Megastructures: World’s Highest Suspension Bridge, has been shown in the USA and Canada, but is not currently viewable online.

There is a minor geographic error in the first minute of this video when it shows a graphic placing the Baluarte Bridge at the junction of two distinct highways (Durango-Mazatlán and Tampico-Durango). The producers have taken some “geographic license” here since the two highways actually meet in the vicinity of the city of Durango, a considerable distance east of the Baluarte Bridge, which is more properly located on the boundary between the states of Durango and Sinaloa, mid-way between Durango and Mazatlán.

While this Spanish language version is quite long winded in places, it includes some spectacular photos and graphics, including the celebration held when the two crews working from opposite sides of the ravine finally met each other in the middle!

In order to ensure safety, the Baluarte Bridge is kitted with an array of sensors which send real time information to engineers in Mexico City who can monitor every aspect of the bridge and its response to every change in wind direction, strength, traffic, etc.

The construction project is not without its critics. While tourism officials expect a massive increase in the number of visitors to Mazatlán, and a doubling of the number of hotel rooms in that resort in the next 10-15 years, the local residents of several villages and ejidos along the route of the new highway claim they have not yet been fully paid for allowing construction crews access to their property or compensated for the damage caused to their pine forests, farmland and water supplies. The new highway may also “change the criminal dynamic” in this mountainous area, the more remote parts of which have a long and troubled history of violence and drugs trafficking.

We’ll post again about this astonishing engineering achievement when the new highway is completed and open to regular traffic, hopefully later this year! Meanwhile, it’s back to drawing an updated version of Figure 17.4 of Geo-Mexico, the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico (currently on special offer at, a map showing the average driving times by road from the city of Durango to everywhere else in Mexico.

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Cyclists retaking the streets of Guadalajara

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Feb 022013

The popularity of cycling is growing rapidly in several Mexico cities. Mexico City has created bike lanes, an Ecobici system for short-distance hires, and holds numerous cycling events and rallies, designed to appeal to the whole family, not just to commuters.

Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city, now has a higher density of car use than Mexico City, according to “Over the Wheel—Mexico“, a documentary made recently for Aljazeera TV by Juan Pablo Rojas. Rojas, a native of the city, is a long-time film maker. He focuses his documentaries “on those sectors of society that are promoting new paradigms of life based on social equality, awareness, development, conservation and sustainability.”

Via RecreActiva in Guadalajara. Photo by

Via RecreActiva in Guadalajara. Photo by

Over the Wheel—Mexico” takes a look at the growing cycling culture in Guadalajara, a city of some four million people and almost two million motor vehicles. It looks at the dedicated work of several committed groups of activists, such as GDL en bici [Guadalajara by bike],  who are striving to persuade car owners to change their habits and make the streets safer for alternative, cleaner corms of transport such as bicycles. Among other things, the activists have begun a “bicicleta blanca” movement in which white-painted bicycles are mounted as a memorial wherever a cyclist is killed in a traffic accident.

Can cyclists reclaim the streets of Guadalajara from cars? This 25-minute documentary, which has Spanish language commentary and English subtitles, looks at how a quiet revolution in sustainable urban transport is slowly unfolding in Guadalajara.

Further evidence of the growing popularity of cycling in Guadalajara is provided by the success of the weekly “Via RecreActiva” (see image). Every Sunday, city officials close over 65 km (40 mi) of city streets to motorized vehicles for six hours from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Up to 200,000 people take over the streets. Most are on bicycles, but others are walking, jogging, rollerblading or skateboarding.

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Mexico City wins 2013 Sustainable Transport Award

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Jan 192013

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), together with an international committee of transportation and development experts, has awarded Mexico City the 2013 Sustainable Transport Award.

The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy works with cities worldwide to bring about sustainable transport solutions that cut greenhouse gas emissions, reduce poverty, increase urban mobility and improve the quality of urban life.

The 2013 Sustainable Transport Award recognizes Mexico City’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, cycling and walking infrastructure, parking program, and revitalization of public space. Established in 2005, the Sustainable Transport Award recognizes leadership and visionary achievements in sustainable transportation and urban livability, and is presented to a city each January for achievements in the preceding year.

Mexico City Metrobus

The Sustainable Transport Award was presented to Mexico City on January 15, 2013 at an awards ceremony during the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, one of six major divisions of the U.S. National Research Council. ITDP board president and former Mayor of Bogotá Enrique Peñalosa presented Mexico’s Minister of Transport, Rufino León, and Minister of Environment, Tanya Muller with the award. The former Mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, who oversaw much of Mexico City’s sustainable transport projects, made closing remarks at the ceremony. Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Transportation, delivered the keynote address.

Mexico City has implemented many projects in 2012 that have improved livability, mobility, and quality of life for its citizens, making the Mexican Capital a best practice for Latin America.

  • The city expanded its Bus Rapid Transit system, Metrobús, with Line 4, running along a corridor from the historic center of the city to the airport.
  • The city piloted a comprehensive on-street metered parking program, EcoParq.
  • The city opened line 12 of its Metro system (Sistema de Transporte Colectivo Metro).
  • The city expanded its successful public bike system Ecobici, and added new bike routes (ciclovías).
  • The city revitalized public spaces including the Alameda Central and Plaza Tlaxcoaque.

The finalists and winner were chosen by a Committee that includes the most respected experts and organizations working internationally on sustainable transportation. The Committee includes the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, The World Resources Institute Center for Sustainable Transport,  GIZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit), Clean Air Asia, Clean Air Institute, United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD), Transport Research Laboratory, EcoMobility, Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI) and the Transport Research Board’s Transportation in the Developing Countries Committee.

“Mexico City was like a patient sick with heart disease, its streets were some of the most congested in the world”, says Walter Hook, CEO of ITDP, “In the last year, Mexico City extended its great Metrobus BRT system straight through the narrow congested streets of its spectacular historical core, rebuilt public parks and plazas, expanded bike sharing and bike lanes, and pedestrianized streets.  With the blood flowing again, Mexico City’s urban core has been transformed from a forgotten, crime ridden neighborhood into a vital part of Mexico City’s future.”

“We congratulate the Federal District of Mexico for their leadership in advancing sustainable transport. Celebrating success is a way to highlight best practices; many cities will find inspiration in your great achievements.”

“Sustainable transport systems go hand in hand with low emissions development and livable cities. Mexico City’s success has proven that developing cities can achieve this, and we expect many Asian cities to follow suit,” says Sophie Punte, Executive Director of Clear Air Asia.

Past winners of the Sustainable Transport Award include:  Medellín, Colombia and San Francisco, United States (2012); Guangzhou, China (2011);  Ahmedabad, India (2010); New York City, USA (2009); London, UK (2008); Paris, France (2008); Guayaquil, Ecuador (2007); Seoul, South Korea (2006), and Bogotá, Colombia (2005).

[Note: This post is based on the text of a press release from the The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP)]

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Durango gets its first Magic Town: Mapimí, along with the Ojuela suspension bridge

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Dec 082012

The state of Durango state finally has its first Magic Town. The small and historic town of Mapimí served various local mines, including San Vicente, Socavón, Sta. Rita, Sta. María, El Carmen, La Soledad, and the presumably traitorous Judas.

The indigenous Tepehuan Indians called this place “the rock on the hill” and repeatedly thwarted the attempts of Jesuit missionaries to found a town here, but the thirst for gold won in the end. It is rumored that gold was even found under the town’s streets. A small museum houses mementos and photos from the old days showing just how prosperous this mining town once was. One handbook to gem collecting in Mexico describes Mapimí as the “mineral collector’s capital of Mexico”. This is the place for the geologist in the group to find plenty of inexpensive agates, selenite crystals, calcite and other minerals.

Like seemingly every town in this region of Mexico, Mapimí boasts that both Miguel Hidalgo, the Father of Mexican Independence, and Benito Juárez, the President of Indian blood, passed by in the nineteenth century. Juárez even stayed overnight.

Ojuela Suspension Bridge

Ojuela Suspension Bridge. Photo: Tony Burton; all rights reserved

Access to one of the local mining areas, about 10 km outside the town is via the Ojuela suspension bridge, a masterpiece of engineering. Ruined stone houses on the hillsides tell of Ojuela’s former wealth. Ore was first discovered here in 1598. By 1777, seven haciendas de beneficio (enrichment plants) served thirteen different mines. In 1848, the Spanish mine owners gave up their struggle to make the mines pay and a Mexican company took over. In 1892 they decided to attack the hillside opposite Ojuela. To shortcut the approach, engineer Santiago Minguin spanned the gorge with a 315-meter-long suspension bridge, said by some to be the third longest in Latin America.

The mine’s production peaked just after the Mexican Revolution. Between 1922 and 1925, 687 kilograms of gold and 99,820 kilos of silver were extracted, alongside more than 51 million kilos of lead and a million kilos of copper. At that time, some 3000 miners celebrated every evening in the bars of Ojuela, now completely abandoned to the elements.

The bridge, restored for its centenary, is a worthy contribution to tourism in Durango state. One and a half meters wide, it sways and bounces in the breeze, probably scaring mums and dads into silent concentration faster than their excited children! But the local miners and their mineral-laden donkeys rattle across the planks as if it were a highway. Once across the bridge, old timers will take you on a one kilometer walk along mine galleries (unlit except for hand-held miners’ lamps) which completely traverse the mountain to emerge into daylight on the far side.

Not far from Mapimí is the internationally-famous “Zone of Silence”, the Mapimí Biosphere Reserve, the claimed merits of which are much discussed.

Mapimí is a very worthy addition to the Magic Towns list. In a future post, we will look at the merits of  six more towns added to the list in the last days of the previous federal administration.

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Oct 222012

Despite earlier claims that the Durango-Mazatlán highway would be completed before the end of this year, government officials have now confirmed that the highway will not be finished, and will not open, until sometime in 2013.

There is still no date for the official opening of the new Mazatlán-Durango highway, but it is now certain that it will not enter service until early 2013, according to press reports. The eastern part of the highway (in Durango state) is expected to be completed before the end of this year. However, it will be impossible to bring this section into use until the western part of the highway (in Sinaloa state) is completed, because the route of the new highway is very different to the existing highway and it would be too expensive to connect the two.

The section of the highway in Sinaloa is reported to be still missing key pieces, including an important bridge.

Update: New Durango-Mazatlán highway officially open(Oct 2013)

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Mexico City tackles the challenges of population, commuting and air quality

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Aug 232012

This short (3 minute) video is a promotional video produced by Mexico City administrators in 2010. It refers only to the Federal District (México D.F.), and not to the entire Mexico City Metropolitan Area (which also includes parts of adjoining states).

The video highlights some of the challenges facing Mexico City’s decision makers. It uses some slick graphics to provide some of the basic facts and figures about area, population, daily commuter flows, improvements in public transportation, reductions in emissions, and so on.

Perhaps the most startling of the statistics given in the video is that the average daily travel time for Mexico City workers, including the several million who commute into the city from the surrounding states, is about three hours. This is a truly staggering amount of time compared to average commutes for most other major cities around the world.

For example, the average commute is 80 minutes a day round trip in Toronto, 68 minutes in New York, 56 minutes in Los Angeles, and 48 minutes in Barcelona. On the other hand, Moscow commuters apparently have even slower journeys to work than Mexico City residents.

World Commuting Times. © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan)

World Commuting Times. Click to enlarge. © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan); used under Creative Commons License

The size of each country on the topological map above, from Worldmapper, is proportional to the total commuting time for that country. To quote Worldmapper: “Commuting time is a measure of how long people spend travelling to work, by whatever means. It could be by foot, bus, car, boat, train, bicycle or other means. The world average commuting time is 40 minutes, oneway. This is the average for people that work.”

Total commuting time is influenced by each country’s total population, but a whole host of other factors also play a part in determining the time required for workers to travel from their place of resident to their place of work. These factors include the available means of transport, transport links, wealth, land use zoning, type of occupation, city size, and so on.

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Mexico Pan-American Highway, route of one of the toughest road races in the world

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Nov 022011

The completion of the Mexican stretch of the Pan-American Highway, from the US border to Guatemala, in the late 1940s was a significant turning-point in the development of Mexico’s road network. The highway made previously remote areas more accessible, but, far more than that, it served as a symbol of unity and Mexico’s progress into the modern era. Only a few years later, the total length of federal highways exceeded the total combined length of the country’s railway lines. As highway transport of freight and passengers took over, rail transport never fully recovered.

To celebrate the opening of the Pan-American Highway, in 1950 a major road race was organized: the Pan-American Race (Carrera Panamericana). The race was held annually until 1954, after which authorities claimed that it had achieved the desired publicity. Actually, the race had achieved considerable undesired publicity as one of the world’s most dangerous road races, 27 people having lost their lives in five years the race was held.

The race was revived, but as a modern, shorter version arranged as a stage rally for vintage cars, in 1988. The 2011 race has just finished.

7 days, 100 cars, 3,000 km, one crazy race (Globe and Mail)

Racers in the early 1950s achieved some astounding average speeds, up to 135 mph for an entire stage. The following extract from a contemporary news report tells the story:

“The 3114 km Mexican road that stretches south to north from Tuxla to Juárez is, according to Alfred Neubauer [a legendary Mercedes-Benz Competition director], a combination of Tripoli’s Grand Prix, the Italian Mille Miglia, the German Nurburgring, and the Le Mans 24 hrs….

The race begins in a tropical climate where the temperature is high and humid and continues along a road that goes from sea level to a suffocating 3000 meter altitude! Temperature variations go from 34 Celcius to almost 2 degrees above freezing in just 72 hours… Carburetors and spark plug selection need alterations every 160 km approximately. Motors that ran miraculously at 1000 mts sounded almost dead at 3000….

The road is paved with a mixture of volcanic ash and this highly abrasive substance will turn a perfectly new passenger car tire to a worn-out one in a 1000 km distance.”

The current road network in Mexico is extensive, covering virtually all areas of the country. Mexico has over 120,000 km of paved roads, far more than any other country in Latin America. By contrast, Brazil has about 96,000 km. There are over 10,000 km of controlled access toll expressways (even if they are among the most expensive in the world!). There are an additional 10,000 km of free four lane highways. Mexico also has over 200,000 km of unpaved roads.

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Traffic congestion still a serious problem for commuters in Mexico City

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Sep 242011

An IBM survey of 8,042 commuters in 20 cities on six continents shows that more people are now taking public transport rather than driving. In general, people report that traffic has improved over the past three years.

The survey, entitled Global Commuter Pain, found that commuting in Mexico City was the “most painful” of the 20 cities studied; commuting in Montreal, Canada, was the “least painful”. The survey suggests that infrastructure investments in congested cities are repaid with improved travel times. Mexico City’s investments in public transport over the next few years should help move it away from the bottom place in the rankings.

Mexico City traffic

"Welcome to Mexico City"

Two-thirds of drivers in Mexico City said they had decided not to make a driving trip at least once in the last month due to anticipated traffic conditions. Asked about the longest amount of time they had been stuck in traffic over the past three years, the mean time reported by Mexico City drivers was over two hours. (Drivers in Moscow fared even worse, with 30% reporting delays over three hours).

The index is comprised of 10 issues: 1) commuting time, 2) time stuck in traffic, agreement that: 3) price of gas is already too high, 4) traffic has gotten worse, 5) start-stop traffic is a problem, 6) driving causes stress, 7) driving causes anger, 8) traffic affects work, 9) traffic so bad driving stopped, and 10) decided not to make trip due to traffic.

The cities scored as follows: Mexico City: 108; Shenzhen 95; Beijing 95; Nairobi 88; Johannesburg 83; Bangalore 75; New Delhi 72; Moscow 65; Milan 53; Singapore 44; Buenos Aires 42; Los Angeles 34; Paris 31; Madrid 28; New York City 28; Toronto 27; Stockholm 26; Chicago 25; London 23; and Montreal 21.

  • The IBM report on the 2011 Commuter Pain Survey (pdf file).