More than two weeks after the first of the two sections that have collapsed so far on the O Castro viaduct, on the A-6, fell, the president of the Confederation of Employers of Lugo, Jaime López, summarizes the complaints about the state of infrastructure in the province: “We have connections from the last century.” The landslide, which affects the last stretch in the province of León before entering Lugo, has forced the Northwest Highway to be cut in both directions, the only connection other than a winding mountain road between the north of Galicia and the Plateau. The detour that involves leaving the A-6 and crossing the national road that crosses Pedrafita do Cebreiro increases travel times by half an hour, increases traffic in the main nucleus of this municipality and poses a risk in the case of heavy transport .
Residents of a municipality in the mountains of Lugo denounce that Movistar cut the traditional telephone line without warning
The collapse of two spans of a viaduct – a third, in the middle of the other two, is still standing but with such instability that it is expected to fall or have to be thrown away – is unprecedented in Spanish civil engineering. After what happened, one of the two main links from Galicia to the Meseta was left unused indefinitely. The other, which mainly channels traffic from the southern part of Galicia, is the A-52, which leaves through Ourense.
The situation underlines the previous problems in communications in the province of Lugo, the worst connected in Galicia. By air, from the provincial capital, the journey to the nearest airports – those of A Coruña and Santiago – is just over an hour. By road, the highway that will link the provincial capital and the regional capital, Santiago de Compostela, accumulates years of delays and the project has had to be modified due to its environmental impact on land where rare and endangered plant species grow . The foreseeable horizon for its completion has been moved until 2024. In the interior axis, the highway with Ourense has not yet been built, and in the region of A Mariña, on the coast, an infrastructure is also pending to structure it.
The A-8 motorway, which leads from Lugo to Asturias and then runs along the Cantabrian coast, records frequent cuts in the section between Abadín and Mondoñedo. The reason is the thick fog that usually surrounds the top of O Fiouco. A few days ago, at the beginning of June, circulation was temporarily interrupted for this reason. The infrastructure was opened to traffic in this area at the beginning of 2014. It only took a few months to give a serious warning: in July 2014 a chain crash due to lack of visibility in which 35 vehicles were involved resulted in death of a woman and fifty wounded. After years in search of a solution, last January some beacons were installed designed to facilitate driving in fog -they warn the driver if there is another vehicle ahead- and reduce the number of days that the road is closed to traffic. According to data from the General Directorate of Traffic (DGT), between September 2014 and November 2021, the section was unused for 3,281 hours, that is, about four and a half months.
By train, Lugo continues outside the high-speed map. The road that joins it with Ourense, where it connects with the AVE, is currently undergoing improvement works. Part of the journey has to be done by bus and, in total, it takes one hour and 45 minutes to cover a distance that by road takes around half an hour less. The capital of the province has no direct connection with Santiago. There are two daily trains to A Coruña and they need almost two hours to cover a journey that takes just over an hour by car. Precisely this last option by road, which is covered by the section of the A-6 that ends in A Coruña, is the only one that the president of the Lugo employers saves from criticism.
Impacts on wind, agri-food and forestry sectors
Jaime López emphasizes that the impact of the cut due to the collapse will not be felt only in Lugo, but throughout Galicia and, above all, in the northern part. He focuses on special traffic -due to the size of the merchandise or the tonnage-, which cannot even circulate on the road that crosses Pedrafita. This is the case of the trucks that transport wind turbine components to the port of Ferrol, one of the main exit points for these goods to other markets. Sources from the Galician Renewable Energy Cluster indicate that the companies are either choosing to access Galicia through Ourense or are diverting material to the port of Santander.
The most important damage, in addition to this type of merchandise, Jaime López foresees it in the agri-food sector, both to take Galician products to other parts of Spain and to receive those that come from other areas. The president of the Port Authority of A Coruña, Martín Fernández Prado, agrees. In statements made this week, he pointed out that there will be delays and a possible increase in the cost of transport that takes fresh fish from the Coruña fish market to Madrid. The president of the Lugo employers’ association also foresees a negative impact on the forestry sector and a “shock on tourism”. He complains about “the lack of security and information” about when it will be possible to circulate again on the A-6.
Technicians have not yet determined the causes of the collapse and are working to get closer to the area. In these circumstances, the Minister of Transport, Raquel Sánchez, refused to talk about forecasts during her visit to the area a week ago, after the fall of the second span: “We are not in a position to announce deadlines.” The works are expected to be long. So much so that the Xunta has asked its engineers to propose alternative routes and has transferred three to the central government. His favorite would be to allocate around 1.5 million euros to build a branch that connects the national VI – through which traffic is being diverted – again with the A-6 once the viaduct has been passed, but before the tunnels of Pedrafita.
The mayor of this municipality, José Luis Raposo (PSOE), said, in statements to Europa Press, that the construction of the infrastructure, begun in 1997 with José María Aznar in the Government and concluded in 2002, was “a disaster” and ” possibly it has a defect” and an “insufficient foundation”. “Ask those who built it,” he asked. The works were awarded to a UTE -temporary union of companies- made up of Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas, OCP Construcciones -which later became ACS- and FCC Construcción.
The Logistics Function Cluster, of which companies in the sector, industries and the port authorities of Galicia are members, has put some figures on the economic impact of the cut: a third of the goods that enter or leave the community do so through the A-6, depending on the group. According to his calculations, if the difficulties continue, 3,000 jobs are at risk.
“Lugo has no plan B”
Despite the days that have passed since the pavement collapsed on the A-6, Raúl Rodríguez, a trade unionist in the transport sector of the CCOO and Lugo, the comments that reach him continue to focus on the astonishment at what happened and not both in the disconnection of the province. Bad communications, he says, “are forever.” And he compares the situation with that of the rest of the provinces: “Others have alternatives, we don’t have plan B.” He refers to the fact that the AVE connects with the Meseta through Ourense since another highway enters through this province. And, from there, there are also connections with the Atlantic axis, although some of them have to pay a toll.
Antonio Niño, regional secretary of the Galician Inter-Union Confederation (CIG) in Lugo, criticizes the “delay” in Lugo connections both by road and by rail. “The train is like not having one”, he says, ironizing that it is a good alternative to get around “bucolic” and appreciate the landscape. From Lugo, he assures him, there are people who go by car to catch the train in Ourense or Ponferrada. His portrait of bus services is not much better: “Stops have been lost, especially in rural areas, because there are fewer people and they are no longer profitable, but they are still necessary. And it is, in turn, another cause of rural abandonment”.