Outlook 2018: Major Mexican infra projects in race against time

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The general elections to be held on July 1 will certainly be the most defining event for the Mexican infrastructure sector next year.  

Following the February 12 deadline that will reveal the names of all the candidates competing, and once campaigns are formally launched on March 31, the talk of the town will be the infrastructure proposals of the presidential hopefuls. 

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Public attention, as well as that of local and international investors, will most likely focus on analyzing the feasibility of the candidates' infrastructure plans and their proposals to fund the projects. 

But even if the spotlight is elsewhere, 2018 will also be a critical year for some of the major infrastructure projects that President Enrique Peña Nieto launched during his administration under the national infrastructure program (PNI) 2014-2018, some of which have to be completed before his term expires and are thus now in a race against the clock.

SCT authorities visit the construction site of the Mexico City-Toluca rail line to check on the project's progress. CREDIT: SCT.

Mexico City-Toluca interurban passenger rail line

One of Peña Nieto's landmark projects, the 56.5bn-peso (US$2.9bn) rail line between Mexico City and Toluca is still under construction. With an original operational deadline of 2017, the line's completion date was pushed back to 2018 by the transport ministry (SCTshortly after the launch of works

During a visit to the project site on December 10, STC officials announced that the civil works would be concluded by May so that operational tests could begin soon after and the line could open by the end of next year. 

Many questions abound on whether the project will be ready on time. Although its overall progress has reached 70%, one of the three sections into which the project was divided – a stretch running from La Marquesa to Observatorio metro station in Mexico City – is only 37% complete.

A report by the country's superior audit authority (ASF) earlier this year confirmed delays on the construction of the aforementioned stretch.

Meanwhile, just last week, Mexico City mayor Miguel Ángel Mancera said that as that no funds were earmarked in the 2018 spending budget for the expansion of the city's metro line No.9, the capital would not be able to host the rail line, because the 1.46km tunnel that would connect Tacubaya metro station to the rail line's Observatorio terminal could not be built due to a lack of funds. Transport minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza refuted Mancera's remarks, saying that all the conditions are in place for the successful completion of the project.

Third line of Guadalajara light rail system

Although the construction of this 20bn-peso project has suffered a number of delays, federal authorities announced that progress on the initiative has reached the 92% mark. 

Following amendments to the original completion deadlines set in the contracts, the three sections comprising the line were expected to be ready by October and November of this year. The delays have mostly affected the progress of the line's tunnel, where, according to press reports, excavation works remain incomplete for at least a several kilometers, and construction of stations on that stretch of the project is still pending.

Last week, Jalisco state governor Aristóteles Sandoval said that the construction difficulties were related to a broken part in the tunnel boring machine, which has already been replaced. 

Meanwhile, transport minister Gerardo Ruiz Esparza has assured that works will be completed during the first few months of next year.

Based on the most up-to-date official timetable, operational tests on the line are scheduled to begin in April, with the service set to open in July. However, the rail system's director, Rodolfo Guadalajara, told members of a local construction chamber in October that the line could start operating gradually while the project's underground section is being completed, until it goes into full operation by the second half of next year. 

SCT authorities visit the construction site of the future Mexico City airport to check on the project's progress. CREDIT: SCT.

Mexico City future international airport

If everything goes according to plan, 2018 will see the last contracts for the construction of the 186bn-peso airport being awarded during the first months of the year.  

Among the contracts still in play are those for the intersection to connect the airport's entrance to the Peñon-Texcoco highway, the two central utility plans, the installation of the runways' lighting system, the airport aprons and platforms of the satellite building, cargo terminal and maintenance area, as well as the power network.

The majority of those tender processes have experienced a number of minor delays. The main setback was involved the construction of the intermodal ground transport center – the airport's last major contract – for which a tender was declared void in November after an evaluation committee ruled that none of the bids submitted met all the specified requirements.

The tender for the center was launched in April this year, with June as the original award date. The process has already been revived, according to official information. A new tender will be launched on January 11, with the winner set to be announced on March 30. Construction works are expected to begin by May 1.

Although October 2020 has been set as the airport's opening date, doubts still linger over whether that deadline will be met. Back in October, an official from the ASF told members of the legislative commission that was created to oversee the initiative that completing the airport will likely take longer than expected and cost more than currently estimated. 

In addition, the fate of the airport mega project may also depend on the results of the general elections held in July next year. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the de facto candidate of opposition party Morena, and who currently leads every presidential race poll by a comfortable margin, has pledged to cancel the project if elected. The politician, better known by his acronym AMLO, has suggested an alternative proposal to expand the existing Mexico City airport, which would reportedly cost a fraction of what is being invested in the new airport.

Other projects under the PNI

The overall progress on the PNI is 81%, according to official information. As regards the goal of building 52 new toll highways, only 37 have been completed as of this month at a cost of 133bn pesos. The remaining 15 roads are expected to be concluded next year.

Of the 80 toll-free highways that are being upgraded, works have been completed on 69 of them with the investment of 50.1bn pesos.  According to SCT officials, another eight projects will be concluded by the end of this year, with works on the remaining three roads being completed next year.