Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Troubled Bridge Over Water: Porto Cristo

Manacor's mayor, Antoni Pastor, has bowed to the inevitable. The bridge in Porto Cristo, the "puente del Riuet", will come a-tumbling down. With its demolition, a chapter will close (though don't bank on it) that can be traced back to 1968 and the antecedents that led to the bridge's construction being started in 2003. Pastor, increasingly under personal pressure caused by his being fined for not complying with the order for the town hall to get on with demolishing the bridge, has fought a populist corner to keep something that not everyone in Porto Cristo will be sad to see go.

There have been protests aimed at preventing the bridge's demolition, and the publicity that these have attracted have deflected attention away from the fact that homeowners were directly affected by waking up one day to find a damn great bridge outside their windows.

These owners have had to endure noise and loss of light. They have had to pay for double glazing to try and shut out noise but have also had to keep windows shut during the summer. They have had to keep lights on all day. They have seen the value of their properties drop by some 90%. They have lived with the permanent fear that an accident might end up with a coach parked in a living-room.

The lawsuits have been many, the compensation has not been that great, the cost of pulling the thing down will run to around 900,000 euros, not much less than what it cost to put it up in the first place.

Manacor town hall, faced with footing the bill, had argued, among other things, that the bridge was not illegal, as has been deemed to be the case by the Balearics Supreme Court. It was built under an agreement between the town hall, the Council of Mallorca and the regional government, and yet it (the town hall) is expected to have to pay for it to come down.

With some justification, the town hall has a right to feel a bit miffed, not just because of the cost but also because of an absence of support from the other authorities, notably the Council of Mallorca. There is some debate as to whether the bridge is or isn't included in its plan for "carreteras". In 2009 the then director for the island's highways announced that it was. In theory, this should have put an end to the whole conflict, but now it would appear that it isn't included in the plan. The likelihood exists that a new bridge will have to be built.

The saga of the bridge is utter madness. At a combined cost of two million euros, that for building it and then knocking it down, Porto Cristo will not have a bridge, other than an old one that is inadequate for purpose. Until such a time as a new one arises, if it does, there will be congestion, and in the short term there will be chaos as the demolition work will carry on into the tourist season. And if a new bridge is built, it will cost God knows how much and be proceeded by the predictable and lengthy arguments that will themselves attract cost and delay.

What makes the bridge's demolition all the more absurd and costly is that services - water, sewage, phones and electricity - will all have to be diverted. This alone will amount to a quarter of a million euros. But the absurdity is heightened further when one considers quite why the bridge was built as it was. The result of this was, as should have been obvious, the impact on residences; an impact that led the Supreme Court to order the demolition.

One of the main reasons for the bridge being built was the traffic jams and the difficulties that coaches, heading for the Caves of Drach, had in negotiating the roads. These difficulties will return, making Porto Cristo once more a traffic nightmare in summer.

The homeowners will be pleased and so they should be. The past few years have been intolerable, but in a way, other than just because of the alleviation of traffic problems, the bridge should be allowed to stay. To stay as a monument. A monument to the stupidity that will mean it costs much the same to pull it down as it took to put it up.

Any comments to please.

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