60% of controversial Prolongacíon tunnel thought to be salvageable

How the underpass looked last December. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
The future of a controversial underpass in Mérida is in doubt after being plagued by floods for much of 2020. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The Prolongacíon Paseo de Montejo underpass, which was chronically flooded in 2020, might be saved. Or at least 60% of it, said a city official.

The relatively short tunnel, completed in 2011 to remedy traffic conditions at a busy roundabout, made traffic worse when it flooded twice after record rainfall. The roadway was dug too close to the water table, experts have said.

A city study to determine whether to fix or fill in the underpass was announced in December.

The most visible damage to the “paso deprimido” are cracks along 30% of two of its four lanes. Its walls are oozing.

Its sidewall lighting system is a total loss, said José Yobany Cab Zapata of the Mérida Public Works Directorate.

But 60% of the structure is in good condition and is salvageable, he told Diario de Yucatán.

In the meantime, traffic has been diverted to the original “Burger King Circle” but is bottlenecked at one-lane access roads built for cars exiting to the Circuito.

Engineer Cab Zapata told a Diario reporter that the south side of the west lane was damaged the most.

Waters rose as high as 2.96 meters / 9.7 feet in October, he said. Now, the underwater aquifer measures 1.32 meters / 4.3 feet above the road at its deepest point. Two 40-horsepower and two 20-horsepower pumps still work, he said. But the increasingly brackish pool of water remains.

“At the moment the underpass cannot be opened to traffic. For that, studies are carried out by the College of Engineers to determine what will really be done with this road,” he reported.

The 300-meter-long passageway is not in danger of collapsing, the official assured the reporter. He offered no estimated reopening date.

For the sweeping change the project would impose on the neighborhood, the underpass was controversial even before its construction. The anniversary of a particularly angry July 4, 2011 clash is still recognized.

The project has cost the city 79.4 million pesos, including 15 million for maintenance and repairs due to the original design flaws and electricity to power the pumps, Mayor Renán Barrera Concha announced on Dec. 15.

Here is how the project was described when it was first announced:

Lee Steele

Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012.