Devil’s backbone
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  Posted March 28th, 2016 by Zdenko  in Travel | No comments yet.

Travel Mexico

By: DAILY MAIL REPORTER

The Devil’s Spine – Spina di Diablo
Taming the ‘Devil’s Backbone’: Treacherous 140-mile mountain road crossing the heart of Mexico’s marijuana fields into the U.S. is transformed into a safe trade route with completion of $2.2bn bridge and highway. The Durango-Mazatlán Highway, designed to bring legitimate commerce safely across the Sierra Madre in Mexico, was completed last August.

article1The Durango-Mazatlán Highway in the western Sierra Madre near Concordia, Mexico, vies to be one of the country’s greatest engineering feats

Once a dangerous road in a treacherous Mexican mountain range known for marijuana and opium poppies, the Devil’s Backbone has been transformed by what may be one of the country’s greatest engineering feats.

‘It will change the landscape of this part of the country,’ Sinaloa state tourism Secretary Francisco Cordova said. ‘It’s an opportunity to develop these areas and diversify the local economy.’

The highway project, 140-miles-long, has 115 bridges and 61 tunnels. Officials predict the $2.2 billion highway to transform northern Mexico for the good, linking port cities on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific with a 12-hour drive. Plans for the project began 15 years ago. Eventually, the highway will move 5 million vehicles a year—four times the number handled by the old road.

article2On either side of the recently-completed Baluarte Bridge along the highway are some of the most dangerous states for drug violence

Some locals of the Mexican states of Sinaloa and Durango think the new highway will improve access, will others fear they will lose business when cars and trucks bypass the towns. Authorities hope the project will increase tourism to such areas plagued by drug violence. On either side of the Balaurte Bridge, part of the highway in the western part of the country, Sinaloa and Durango were among the deadliest states in terms of drug-related killings between 2006 and 2011.

article8Connection: The $2.2 billion highway will link port cities on the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Ocean with a short 12-hour drive.

‘The road will increase jobs and keep people busy,’ said Eligio Medina, mayor of the city of Concordia, Sinaloa. ‘When there is social mobility, criminal groups are more limited.’ Lavender-blue peaks of the western Sierra Madre jut as far as the eye can see, the only hints of civilization: a tendril of smoke from burning corn residue, a squiggle of dirt road. Then out of nowhere, a flat ribbon of concrete runs like a roller coaster over giant pylons, burrowing in and out of the mountainside until it seems to leap midair over a 400-meter (1,200-foot) river gorge via the world’s highest cable-stayed bridge, called the Baluarte.

article3Secluded: Officials hope the new highway project will bring tourism and commerce to towns, like El Palmito, along the old Durango-Mazatlán highway.

The Durango-Mazatlán Highway is one of Mexico’s greatest engineering feats, 115 bridges and 61 tunnels designed to bring people, cargo and legitimate commerce safely through a mountain range known until now for marijuana, opium poppies and an accident-prone road called the Devil’s Backbone. Even those protesting the project say the 230-kilometer-long (140-mile) highway, expected to be completed in August, will change northern Mexico dramatically for the good. It will link port cities on the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific by a mere 12-hour drive, and Mazatlán with San Antonio, Texas, in about the same time. The highway will eventually move 5 million vehicles a year, more than four times the number on the old road, plus more produce and goods from Asia to the Mexican interior and southern U.S.

article10Drugs: The western Sierra Madre is known for marijuana and opium poppies.

Sinaloa state tourism officials predict an “explosion” for the resort city of Mazatlán, hard hit by drug violence in recent years, as the new road gives 40 million Mexicans in interior states an easy drive to the beach.

“It will change the landscape of this part of the country,” said Tourism Secretary Francisco Cordova. “It’s an opportunity to develop these areas and diversify the local economy.”

article4Road: The 140-mile-long highway will eventually move 5 million vehicles, like this truck near the town of El Palmito Progress: 0%

But it remains to be seen if the $2.2 billion highway will pull the towns of wood and corrugated-metal shacks in rural Sinaloa and Durango away from their historical ties to drug trafficking. In Concordia, the municipality that abuts the Baluarte Bridge in Sinaloa state, nine people were ambushed and killed last December as they ate their Christmas Eve dinner. The prosecutor blamed the attack on a war for control of drug trafficking. The public security chief in Pueblo Nuevo, on the Durango side of the bridge, was gunned down a year ago by armed commandos as he walked down a street in daylight. Government officials say the new road will bring legitimate economic activity to a troubled area. Locals say it may improve access, or take what little honest business they had as trucks and buses bypass towns altogether.

article5Dangerous: The new highway replaced what was known as the Espinazo del Diablo, or the Devil’s Backbone, a road stretching along the spine of a mountain with drops of hundreds of feet on either side.

“It could leave some of the communities even more isolated,” said Jose Luis Coria Quinones, spokesman for 1,800 communal tree farmers, who have an injunction suspending construction on the Durango side near the bridge while a court considers their case. They say that the federal government hasn’t paid them sufficiently for access to their property during the construction and hasn’t repaired the damage caused to pine forests, water supplies and endangered species habitat.

article6Tourism: Sinaloa state tourism officials predict the new project will increase tourism in the resort city of Mazatlán, hard hit by drug violence in recent years.

From a distance, the Baluarte Bridge and its triangular web of steel cables are both spectacular and wildly out of place, a Golden Gate Bridge in the middle of a moonscape. While shorter than the Golden Gate, the Baluarte crosses a canyon deep enough to fit the Chrysler Building. Engineers pump their fists when asked who designed it: “Puros Mexicanos.” All Mexicans.

article7Crossing: The new Balaurte Bridge is just one of 115 bridges and 61 tunnels within the new highway project.

A team of 60 to 80 experts started about 15 years ago in the Secretary of Communications and Transportation offices in Mexico City, said supervising architect Alberto Ortiz Martinez, using horseback, mule and helicopter to scope out possible routes. The entire road took 130,000 tons of steel and more than 20 times the concrete of an Olympic stadium. Some 1,200 workers on the bridge lived for four years in a nearby encampment.

Puente-Baluarte-Bicentenario-supervision-de-obra-Mazatlan-Gob

“The most complicated problem was getting there, to locations totally inaccessible, and bringing huge quantities of materials,” said engineer Jose Refugio Avila Muro, a federal subdirector of highway projects for Sinaloa state. He compared the topography to an electrocardiogram: “Lots of peaks and you have to find a way to get to each peak from below. You just keep going, one by one, to each new point of construction.”

article9Complete: Some 1,200 workers on the finished Baluarte Bridge lived for four years in a nearby encampment.

The new highway will cut the drive between Durango and Mazatlán to 2.5 hours from the current six hours of hairpin turns, few guard rails and the Devil’s Backbone, a stretch of road along the spine of a mountain with drops of hundreds of meters (feet) on either side.

Coming around a blind curve, a driver may suddenly have to negotiate passage between a semitrailer barreling downhill and a handful of cows tiptoeing along a narrow shoulder. Deadly accidents are common. A bus carrying mostly retiree tourists to Mazatlán plunged off the road a year ago, killing a dozen and injuring 22.

But the old highway is not the most forbidding part of the landscape.

article11Tunnel: The entire road took 130,000 tons of steel and more than 20 times the concrete of an Olympic stadium.

From December 2006 until September 2011, when the federal government stopped providing numbers, Sinaloa and Durango on either side of the Baluarte Bridge were among the deadliest states in terms of drug-related killings. Mazatlán ranked 8th among Mexico’s more than 2,400 municipalities and Pueblo Nuevo, the municipality on the Durango side of the highway, was 35th most violent up to the end of 2010.

The U.S. State Department discourages travel in both states, except for specific tourist zones of Mazatlán.

The killings spiked in townships near the new road as a group known as the Mazatlecos and the Zetas battle for territory controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel, named for its home state and headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the world’s richest and most-wanted drug lord. A series of attacks around Concordia, Sinaloa, in late 2012, including the Christmas Eve massacre, caused some 250 families to flee their communities, said Concordia Mayor Eligio Medina. They have yet to move back.

article12Aged: A preacher and a beggar stand at the entrance of Concordia, Mexico, on the old Durango-Mazatlán road. Some believe access to the town will increase, but other locals fear the new highway will encourage vehicles to pass by towns’ altogether.

Medina said the new highway could change the criminal dynamic, bringing tourism to colonial Concordia, founded in 1565 by the Spaniards as a way station between the coast and the gold mines. It’s also one of the most biologically diverse townships in the world, he said, noting that a new species of plant, the ageratina concordiana, was recently discovered there. He envisions everything from bird-watching to bungee jumping in Concordia’s Chara Pinta ecological preserve.

article13Workers: Officials believe the new highway projects completion in August will boost the tourism industry and bring more wealth to the area.

“The road will increase jobs and keep people busy,” Medina said. “When there is social mobility, criminal groups are more limited.”

Medina said the area is quiet again, with the Mexican military patrolling the towns that were attacked. Mazatlán tourism officials say killings there have dropped from 307 in 2011 to 43 so far this year. Latin America security expert Samuel Logan agrees the new road could be a boost to tourism and commerce, and but also to illegal transport.

“Maybe Concordia will grow and there will be a Holiday Inn Express there,” he said. “Will there be running daytime shootouts on this highway? Not likely. But will there be convoys of eight to 10 trucks going 90 mph (140 km/h) filled with guys with guns? Probably.”

article14Change: Sinaloa state secretary of tourism Francisco Cordova, pictured, said the project ‘will change the landscape of this part of the country’.

article15Empty: Some wonder if rural towns like El Palmito, along the old Durango-Mazatlán highway, will be pulled from their old ties to drug trafficking.

article16Long fall: The canyon the new the Baluarte Bridge crosses is deep enough to fit the Chrysler Building, which is more than 1,000-feet-tall.

article17New horizons: Officials hope the new highway will revitalize northern Mexico with more legitimate commerce passing though.

Have a good and healthy season.

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