A local judge has temporarily halted the construction of Cancun’s new vehicular bridge to the hotel zone over environmental concerns. Environmentalist groups have sued the massive infrastructure project due to its possible impact on local flora and fauna, especially in the biodiverse mangroves of the Nichupté Lagoon.
The flagship infrastructure project, Puente Vehicular Nichupté (Nichupté Vehicular Bridge), is an 8.8-kilometer-long bridge connecting Cancun’s crowded hotel zone to the mainland downtown area. At a cost of over $250 million dollars, the massive undertaking is expected to significantly help ease traffic congestion in the densely packed hotel zone, benefiting visitors and locals alike.
Although the project was given the green light earlier this year, a local judge has halted work on the new bridge, claiming it lacks sufficient environmental studies needed for construction to start. The ruling is a major setback for the resort destination, which wants to urgently address growing traffic problems. Scheduled for completion in late 2023 to early 2024, the bridge could allay busy roads and facilitate travel in the area.
A local environmental group, Defendiendo el Derecho al Medio Ambiente Sano (DMAS for its acronym in Spanish), took to social media to celebrate the ruling. The group, which has actively opposed several other key projects, including the Maya Train, says the new bridge could potentially wreak havoc on the rather delicate local ecosystem, destroying native habitats for countless species found in the nearby lagoon.
According to the decision issued by Benito Juárez’s district court, all new licenses conceived under Cancun’s public infrastructure development program concerning the expansion of buildings or projects affecting local soil are halted. The judge cites damage to local cenotes, mangroves, and the Mesoamerican reef system. In effect, the ruling also impedes further progress on the Nichupté vehicular bridge, despite more than 5% of the project already being built.
Environmental groups shouldn’t claim victory yet, at least according to officials from Cancun’s government, who say the ruling won’t directly affect the new bridge. They claim that the project can still go ahead, although authorities will have to make adjustments to the initial plan, which foresees destroying parts of local mangroves.
Initially, officials approved the costly bridge project back in June this year. Experts say the decision was rushed and that its environmental analysis was not submitted properly. With the recent ruling putting city officials in a bad light, engineers will have to go back to the drawing board to address environmental concerns before construction of the bridge can ultimately go ahead.
With more than 26 million tourists expected to visit Cancun and the Mexican Caribbean this year through Cancun International Airport alone, the bridge is being planned to help cope with ever-growing arrival numbers. It would also cut down travel time to the hotel zone – home to the vast majority of the city’s massive resorts – for travelers and hotel staff.
Together with the ongoing road construction works affecting Colosio boulevard – the main highway leading to Cancun International Airport – the bridge is part of a wider effort to improve road conditions in the tourist hotspot. Despite the region’s soaring popularity among tourists, its public transport options are rather limited.
As a result, cars remain the most popular form of getting around, leading to heavy traffic during peak travel times. Once complete late next year, the bridge will be toll-free, open to pedestrians and cyclists, and will have several lanes. Earlier this year, environmental groups were successful in freezing certain parts of the government’s Maya Train project, but the Cancun – Playa del Carmen segment has since then been given the green light by a local judge.
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