In the circles of Seville it is almost a recurring custom to talk about the two football teams in the city: Sevilla FC and Betis, but in recent weeks it has crept into conversations – especially those that are settled on social networks ― Another dichotomy: tunnel or bridge to bridge the remaining five kilometers to join Dos Hermanas and Coria del Río through the Guadalquivir and thus link the only two sections built of the SE-40 ring road. The controversy -inflated by the proximity of the municipal elections- shows, however, the history of a blushing failure: the neglect for almost three decades by the Governments of Spain of an essential infrastructure to decongest traffic in the Andalusian capital and promote the economic development of what is called the Greater Seville, the metropolitan area made up of 46 municipalities, which brings together more than 1.5 million inhabitants and in which more than 100 million euros have been wasted.
This Tuesday, the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda submitted to public information the preliminary project to close the SE-40 between Dos Hermanas and Coria del Río with a viaduct and its environmental impact study. The Secretary General for Infrastructure, Xavier Flores, reported last week that the technicians had opted for the construction of a 2,595 meter bridge, four lanes in each direction, 70.8 meters gauge, which would cost 458 million euros. euros, to which another 66 would have to be added for its maintenance during its useful life.
This proposal definitively buries the alternative of building a tunnel under the Guadalquivir, which was the project that was approved and awarded in 2009 to two consortiums for 500 million euros. The technical problems and the geological heterogeneity of the area, with a volume of 40 meters of water that caused constant seepage into the emboquille enclosure, soon questioned the viability of the project, whose cost skyrocketed to 1,200 million euros. The works stopped in 2012 and the original contract was canceled in 2021.
“We cannot allow ourselves to fail again,” insisted Flores in the presentation of the preliminary project to the media last week. And under the premise that the new technical studies had been carried out “without conditions and without taking into account what had been done in the past”, he defended the bridge option, as it is more economical, sustainable, safe and quick to execute, compared to the of the tunnels. The viaduct, according to the ministry’s calculations, will be ready in 2028, while the tunnels – whose cost skyrocketed to 1,077 or 1,800 million, depending on their length, without taking into account the high maintenance costs – would not start to be operational until 2033 or 2036.
Recreation of the bridge that will join Dos Hermanas with Coria del Río through the SE-40. / MITMA
It also weighed up the environmental conditions: the carbon footprint of the tunnel —which implies greater energy consumption and a greater hydrogeological impact due to the volume of earth that is going to have to be moved and taken to landfills— is much higher than that of a bridge. In the ministry they are aware of the visual impact that it can have, but, in addition to alleviating it with a green corridor with almost four kilometers of bicycle and pedestrian lanes or an observatory for birds, it is intended that “instead of affecting the landscape, it generates landscape and becomes an iconic element”, according to the Secretary General of Infrastructures, certain that his proposal would exceed the environmental impact report. The Government hopes that the new viaduct will be at the same level as infrastructures such as the Brooklyn or Sydney bridges. Beyond any other explanation, Flores appealed to a phrase coined among civil engineers: “Rivers are crossed with bridges and mountains with tunnels.”
“The problem is not technical. Engineers can build a tunnel or a bridge, the problem is that it has taken 13 years to get to this point”, says Abraham Carrasco, representative in Seville of the College of Civil Engineers and Bridges of Andalusia, Ceuta and Melilla, who recalls that in 2001, during the study of the initial project, the bridge option was ruled out due to the severe environmental impact it would have on the Guadalquivir plain. “This is a very important infrastructure not only for Seville, but also for Andalusia, because it will facilitate connections between Huelva and Cádiz, which are provinces with ports. We cannot stay in this debate, because there are five sections to be executed and one of them also has to cross the Guadalquivir from the north,” warns Carrasco, who conveys a fear that is also latent in a large part of Sevillian society: “Let it change the color of the Government and there is another change of criteria”.
What seemed like the quickest and cheapest solution to unblock a problem that has been entrenched for 13 years has made social networks boil and has generated a climate of opposition to the project. One of the first to raise his voice has been the mayor of Coria, the Andalusian Modesto González, who always opposed the construction of a bridge due to the visual impact it would cause in his municipality, attached to the Guadalquivir. “I have been the only one who has been defending the tunnels all this time. The bridge is now decorations and flourishes. Our town center is 50 meters from the river, which causes many opposite effects”, he explains.
González, who will present allegations to the project published in the BOE, also points out that the option of a bridge, which involves much less investment, is, he says, “a comparative offense in our territory.” An argument that the PP has also clung to, with the candidate for mayor of Seville at the head, José Luis Sanz, and under which a citizen platform has begun to be organized that aims to get the Government to return to the path of the tunnels.
Map of the tendered section of the SE-40 between Dos Hermanas and Coria del Río. / MITMA
What underlies this indignation is the generalized opinion that Seville continues to carry the ’92 sanbenito, compensating for the benefits it obtained from the splendor of the Expo. The province is the one that has received the least investment in transport infrastructure per inhabitant in Spain since 1985, only ahead of Ceuta, according to a study prepared by the Independent Authority for Fiscal Responsibility (Airef) in 2021, a scourge that has slowed down to exasperation vital works such as the SE-40.
This abandonment has also been criticized by the Sevillian mayor, the socialist Antonio Muñoz, who believes that beyond the controversy between bridge or tunnel, what there is is boredom due to an unjustified break for decades, which generates wear. “The history of the SE-40 is one of unjustified neglect by the ministry. After almost 30 years, not even 50% of the ring has been built and governments of the PSOE and the PP have passed, ministers… and nobody has come to give explanations”, he affirms. Muñoz claims that the ring be closed and that with the savings that having opted for the viaduct means “there is an economic compensation with other pending infrastructures in Seville that compensate for this delay and abandonment”. “I ask for commitment, investment and deadlines to finish the ring,” insists Muñoz, in the demanding path with the administrations, both central and regional, that he has opened since he assumed the command post.
Remains of the paralyzed works of the SE-40 motorway in the Sevillian town of Coria del Río. PACO BRIDGES
The SE-40 bypass began to take shape in 1995, when the Government decided to begin construction to decongest the Seville metropolitan area. Work began in 2007. Of its planned 77.6 kilometers, only 38 are in service, stretching between the arch that joins San José de la Rinconada and Dos Hermanas, to the southeast, and Coria and Espartinas, to the southwest. In the northern area of this unfinished ring there are still five sections without tender, although two of them are scheduled to be budgeted in 2023.
This round is essential not only to divert traffic, which collapses the SE-30 and the V Centenario bridge when entering Seville, but also to promote the economic development of its metropolitan area with direct connections with the provinces of Huelva or Cádiz. . An advantage that Francisco Rodríguez, the mayor of Dos Hermanas, the third city involved in the controversial section that would close the ring to the south, knows well: “There is no controversy in the choice of the bridge, this is a media and political morbidity that does not it takes into account the criteria of effectiveness and reality”, sentences the socialist alderman.
Rodríguez draws attention to the fact that 80% of the SE-40 works pass through his municipality and how, thanks to this artery, in his municipality, with 136,250 inhabitants —one of the fastest growing in population of Andalusia―, it has been possible to link the University of Loyola with the Pablo de Olavide; It has served as an incentive for the Betis sports city to be built, and has decided on Amazon to install its logistics center at its feet. “This infrastructure has allowed this city to develop,” says its mayor. “The SE-40 will allow us to complete the Greater Seville ring road, connect the port of Seville with another city with a port, such as Cádiz, and recover a bank of the Guadalquivir”, he indicates.
The mayor of Seville and the mayor of Dos Hermanas consider it a mistake to stir up the debate between bridge or tunnel. The essential thing is to finish as soon as possible a ring road whose delay only increases the “embarrassing embarrassment” of an oversight on the part of the Administration, which the Secretary General of Infrastructures also acknowledged: “The ministry owes a debt to Seville.” “Bridge or tunnel, whatever has to be done, it should be done now, but continue with the rest of the SE-40, because since it was proposed in 1996, not even half of it has been built,” Carrascosa ditches. Seville, however, is very prone to delaying controversy and the polls around the corner will help stretch it.
An abandoned tunnel boring machine
On March 8, 2012, the tunnel boring machine that was going to drill one of the SE-40 tunnels that had been designed to join Dos Hermanas and Coria underground arrived at the Centennial wharf in the port of Seville. It was acquired for 37 million euros by the joint venture awarded the section. The machine, of colossal proportions (seven stories high, 150 meters long and a head with a diameter of 14 meters) was never assembled because the Government had already decided to abandon the project. Since then she has been stranded in an industrial warehouse in Coria del Río. Its maintenance is 1.4 million euros per year.
The ministry has confirmed that all the contracts that were signed at the time have been terminated and that there is still some administrative litigation with some of the winning companies. It has not confirmed the amount of the compensation, but it has valued the cost of the tunnel boring machine at 12 million euros. The indemnities, as argued by the Secretary General for Infrastructure, Xavier Flores, “are not going to be decisive in reactivating the tunnel option.”
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