Allow me to put you out of your misery, before we go any further: the bigwig from Madrid, José Blanco, announced that the La Herradura-Taramay section of the A-7 Autovía del Mediterraneo wouldn’t be opened until the end of July. Yes that’s right; half way through the summer and several hundred thousand cars later, all queuing laboriously to get through Almuñécar’s dreaded traffic lights. Mind you, by the time that the hapless driver has ‘dripped’ through the tremendous bottlenecks that will form where the A-44 meets the old main road at the Motril flyover, he will probably get out and smash the said traffic lights down with his wife’s formidable handbag – and probably with her still attached to it.
In essence, the final completion of the Granada-Motril autovía is absolutely pointless if the A-7 is not finished. All it means is that drivers will be able to arrive at the interminable traffic jams along the N-340 quicker. After all, when people drive down to the coast, it is not to set up a tent under the Motril N-340 flyover; it’s to get to Motril, Salobreña, Almuñécar and La Herradura. However, this very relevant point apart, let’s get back to the completion of the A-44.
The 10-km stretch that was inaugurated on the 21st of May has six bridges and no tunnels. The bridges, or viaducts, account for 2.7 km of its total length, or in other words; just over a quarter of it. Yes, this last stretch was a bitch and the ‘evil sister’ of the Maro – La Herradura stretch, nine kilometres of construction hell.
There’s a very simple reason why the A-44 has no tunnel between Granada and the coast, where as the Maro – La Herradura one does: coastal valleys run down to the sea, which means if your working your way along the coast, you have to punch your way through valley hillsides, whereas you don’t, if your are running down the valleys.
When the A-44 ventured out of Granada to cross the vega and plateau, nuzzling its way tentatively south, most of the countryside was undulating uplands, so work was relatively quick. The first phase quickly eliminated the tailbacks that used to form on the single-lane uphill traffic up to el Suspiro del Moro. The main thing was there were no steep valleys to cross. The problems began at Río Durcal, where the first bridge is found, and then the next was Río Torrente near Nigüelas and the bridge of the Lecrín valley is sweeping and majestic, But the problems really began at Ízbor, where you can now find three bridges, each belong to different epochs.
The original stone bridge and tunnel there dates back to 1860 during the reign of Isabel II. The iron bridge that runs parallel – used until the recent inauguration – was built in the 1990’s, and finally the new bridge, which is a whopper, is probably the biggest and most complicated of the whole route.
Although pillars have sunk into reservoirs and whole hillsides have subsided, they got the bloody stretch finished… and it cost!
Boy did it cost: each kilometre cost 14m euros, which is three times the cost of the preceding sections. In fact, the Ízbor – Vélez section cost the same, per kilometre, as the AVE high-speed-train routes.
Is it completely finished, then? Well, not according to the bikers who made a noisy protest outside the marquee where the Minister was preening his feathers. Although he did his best not to show his annoyance, the affect that the bikers’ protest had on the gathered press and the opposition politicians present was completely the opposite. In fact, when the Minister’s car drew up, most of the press crews turned their cameras and attention to the bikers, with their imitation US police sirens, whistles and grinning insults, such as “¡Sin Vergüenzas – esto no está acabado!”
The reason for their protest was that the autovía had been opened for use with single, metallic crash barriers instead of double ones. For the bikers it was an unforgivable sin – and who could blame them?
After all, we’re only talking about a ten kilometres of autovía and the expense of using double barriers is nothing compared to the overall cost of building it; 142.75 million euros. The single-barrier system virtually guarantees a biker being cut it half or losing a limb, if he should slide into one of the vertical stanchions, even as slow as 50 kph.
The opening of the autovía was not a cause for rejoicing for everybody – for some it means going out of business. There are numerous café-bars and restaurants through the gorge, as well as a couple of gas stations. The gas station, just before you enter the gorge when approaching from the south, reported a 40% drop in trade when the Vélez Benaudalla bypass was opened as an alternative route to the gorge. Now with the autovía fully operative, he will simply go out of business.
The gorge road came into being in 1976, making the old route, which ran from Vélez Benaudalla, through the Gorgoracha Tunnel, reaching Motril near where the hospital now stands. That’s the way you went, if you wanted to reach the coast from Granada. Well, Antonio, recognising the future potential of the gorge route, opened his bar, El Azud de Vélez, in 1977 and had a very prosperous 30 years out of it. He is the first to recognise that just as trade flowed down the gorge route, it will now flow elsewhere and that an end of an epoch has been reached, and with it, the end of his business, perhaps.
Finally, was the inauguration of the much-awaited autovía a piece of shameless electioneering, squeezed in at the last legal moment before the European Election campaign began? Yes, of course it was. It is amusing, of course, because they all do it. Not long ago, for instance, the Almuñécar branch of the PSOE heavily criticised the Mayor for inaugurating the Aquarium just before the Municipal Elections, yet here is their party in Madrid pulling exactly the same stunt.