The new Mexico City International Airport (NAICM) is the nation’s largest infrastructure project, with a price tag of more than US$9.5 billion. But how will people get to their flight on time given the rush-hour traffic that saturates the city and no public transport links to connect it?

According to the Tom Tom Index, Mexico City ranks number 1 as the city with the most traffic in the world. Apart from the traffic, public transportation is not exactly the city’s best feature.

In 2015, CEPAL estimated that for every 1,000 habitants, there were at least 300 cars. The lack of public transportation incentivized the use of cars and for this reason, cities began to carry out their urban planning around vehicles too. According to Autotraffic, most of public resources assigned for urban infrastructure have been historically used in increasing capacity for cars, creating infrastructures such as bypasses, distributors and bridges. Approximately 77 percent of federal investment in mobility has been for cars, yet three out of four trips made in a city are made using bicycle, public transport or walking, CTS Embarq estimates.

Since the construction began for NAICM, one of the main criticisms is that it is an island – there are no links to interconnect the city or the rest of the country to the airport. But the government seems to be learning from some of its previous public transport mistakes. In June, the Collective Transport System (STC) launched a tender for the pre-investment phase of the Express Train that will run from Observatorio, one of the Metro’s main connection points, to NAICM in just 35 minutes.

The winning company or consortium will work with the federal and state governments to define demand studies, urban infrastructure, technology, civil work structure options and energy sources. “These studies will define the optimal alternative routes that will take advantage of the existing right of way and have the least impact on the existing urban infrastructure,” stated STC in a press release.

With NAICM scheduled to be inaugurated in October 2020, this will give STC only two and a half years to plan, construct and begin operation of the new Express Train. But public-sector projects often come with time constraints and, for this particular project, there are bigger challenges to consider.

Rights of Way Issues

One party that is familiar with problems on the route to Observatorio is Omega, one of the developers of the third section of the Mexico-Toluca Interurban train. The route of the interurban train has been changed due to the difficulty of liberating the right of way (ROW), as it will run through heavily populated areas from Santa Fe to Observatorio. The train’s route was changed once because of the inconveniences it would bring to the people of Santa Fe and then changed again due to the concerns of the quantity of trees that would be demolished in the process. Omega, one of the companies developing the project, stated that the changing of the original path has heavily impacted the estimated costs and budget, which will impact the viability of the project drastically.

The distance from Observatorio and NAICM is approximetly 25km, passing through the downtown area. According to INEGI, when considering the 42,640m from Observatorio to NAICM, leaving approximately one block of leeway, over 34,507 homes and more than 96,000 people would have to be considered. It seems the developers of the NAICM-Observatorio project will have to pay close attention to the lessons learned from the Mexico-Toluca Interurban project.

INAH Intervention

On June 25, Jorge Gaviño, Director General of STC stated that there is a possibility that the train could have two additional stops between Observatorio and NAICM – one in the city center and the other at AICM. But this could prove to cause additional headaches for the developers.

Recently, the National Institute of Anthropology, the body in charge of protecting the country’s cultural patrimony, notably closed down the planned Line 7 of the city’s Metrobus system. The new line is planned to run from Indios Verdes to Periferico, passing through Reforma and Chapultepec Park. Because these are historic sites protected by the country, INAH had to provide its full approval in order for construction to take place. INAH demanded all work be temporarily halted on Line 7 on June 13th, 2017 as it had only approved the initial construction phase of the project. “The Institute has to review and determine the feasibility of the project presented by the authorities of the Government of Mexico City, depending on the impact it may have on the conservation and protection of assets,” stated INAH. The projects is now back on track but the planning oversight caused significant delays.

The city’s downtown area is known as the Historic Center due to the large concentration of protected monuments and buildings contained in its parameters, including the city’s 16th century gothic Cathedral and the sacred Aztec temple Templo Mayor. Mexico’s historic center, in fact, is filled with so many cultural gems that it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1987.

Public-Private Cooperation

One thing is clear. If this urban megaproject is to be a success, the public and private sector will have to draft a solid plan prior to construction. This will not only ensure its timely completion, but its approval by the millions of people living in the city.

The development of more public transportation alternatives is crucial in order to remove Mexico from Tom Tom’s list. But these projects must also be adapted to Mexico’s cultural nuances and the city’s needs in order to truly make an impact. In Mobility 3.0 by Alfonso Vélez, Director General of Autotraffic he states: “Urban planning and management must take into account all users of road space, from pedestrians and public transport to cars and bikes.

For those looking to take on the challenge, these are the dates to remember:

July 18 – Site visit

July 20 –  Meeting for clarifications about the project

July 27 – The presentation and opening of proposal submission

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