In Reunion, the broken coastal road opens up… in part

Saint-Denis (Reunion), letter

When viewed from above, the cliff does not look so terrible. The Reunion motorist dominated the scene. To his right, the Indian Ocean as far as the eye could see, to his left, he couldn’t see what was said old road » on the beach. The 50 km/h limit in some places allowed him to admire the view from above the two lanes.

Twelve years after the official launch of the project, the new coastal road was finally opened to traffic on Sunday 28 August. Fortunately, because it is only accessible in one direction, from Saint-Denis to Grande Chaloupe. The rest of the La Possession route inevitably passes at the foot of the rock faces. In the opposite direction of traffic, users heading to the capital of Reunion still find themselves stuck in two lanes at the bottom of the cliff. And that is the time to repair the work of the accropodes [1] damaged from the dike.

Whatever. Some motorists, in cars or on two wheels, however made the trip one of the first to take the 8.7 km section that follows a straight line to the west, a hundred meters from the shore, above the waves. The work is known as the most expensive road in the world » [2]. Farther on, the NRL entered the annals of Reunion.

This partial opening will take place 12 years after the official launch of the project. © Reunion Region

Since 2010, the construction of this pharaonic road has made headlines and made headlines many times in the local press. Extreme and uncontrollable extra costs, investigation by the national financial prosecutor’s office for corruption and favoritism, ecological aberrations, judicial and administrative records…

The project was launched in 2010 by the former president of the region, Didier Robert, and his team. The official purpose: to protect the 80,000 motorists who use this extremely busy highway every day from falling rocks. 21 people have died in this way since the construction of this road in 1976. The regional executive then stayed with the project to build the road over the sea. Other options are rejected: a road in the middle of the cliff, a tunnel, the installation of avalanche barriers to prevent the fall of rocks or even the creation of a tram-train. At that time, public transportation was not popular, and could even seem retrograde, when the car appeared as a sign of comfort and modernity.

The chosen option is the construction of a first section in the form of a viaduct and a second in the form of a dyke, in order in particular to meet the expectations of the carriers. Due to the lack of materials for the construction of the dyke section, the site progressed slowly before being interrupted, then abandoned in 2020. This question of materials, although large, has not been anticipated. So the road ends… at the sea.

The different sections of the road along the coast. © Reunion Region

An article by Reporter traces the remarkable story of the construction of this structure by the great multinationals Bouygues and Vinci. In 2021, the new mandate of the head of the Reunion Region inherits the child – and the budgetary chasm that accompanies it – promises that it will end the road. The option of building a dike for the missing part, ie 2.7 km, was immediately rejected by the new majority in the region. Therefore, Huguette Bello, the president, intends to stop the project to operate a megaquarry in Bois-Blanc (Saint-Leu), which caused the anger of the associations of citizens created for the occasion.

The association of Srepen – the Reunionese Society for the Study and Protection of Nature – is only satisfied with this decision of any viaduct » which he defended from the beginning. In fact, compared to the dyke option, it has the advantage of less damage to the sea floor as well as the specific fauna and flora of the cliff. Fed by sea spray, the latter is a unique biotope home to a unique species, the straw-en-queue tree.

At the Harbor level, there are new species of fish and coral, a whole environment that has been reconstituted », explained the former president of Srepen. The coastal area is also frequented by marine mammals, whales and dolphins.

The complete route will not be delivered before 2028-2030 »

What would be the consequence of building a viaduct for this environment ? New studies need to be done to find out. A previous study by the National Council for the Protection of Nature (CNPN), dated 2018, already mentioned proven negative effects, insufficient consideration and uncertainty related to the environmental effects of NRL ». After the state check, the public should be invited to give their opinion.

The complete route will not be delivered before 2028-2030 », informed the President of the Region, Huguette Bello. A delay of ten years is very likely to the scheduled delivery date. We will violate Huguette Bello’s mandate »lined Jean-Pierre Marchau, regional secretary of Europe ecology of vegetables.

At the end of the year, the Region is obliged to organize the Assises de la Mobilitéhe added. This will be an opportunity for the Reunionese to give their opinion. Aren’t they tired of us building roads, waiting for buses that aren’t on time, etc.? ? » The ecologist, if he knew that the connection to the viaduct was necessary, considered that the completion of the road was not a priority. He prefers to re-inject funds into alternatives to all cars: the installation of rail transport, for example. You realizehe said, an urban tramway costs between 400 and 500 million euros. There, we will put the approximate price of two urban trams, all financing of the Region is monopolized to finish this road, which does not solve traffic problems. »

Damaged dike elements risk generating additional costs. © Reunion Region

The total cost of the road is now estimated at 2.4 billion euros, but many uncertainties remain in the evolution of additional costs: after two years, almost a thousand accropodes have been damaged while the shell formed by it is indestructible. How much will it cost to fix them ? How strong are the viaduct piles ? Is it possible for the megabarge to return from Rotterdam to Reunion? Zuritewhich was used to build the pillars of the first viaduct before being sold ? What compensation is finally entitled to the multinationals in the name of the risks that have arisen since the first pickaxe ?

The Region has already announced that it will not implement some environmental compensation measures such as disassembly » of the existing coastal road costing €50 million. But does he have a choice? ? If the Region wants to get state aid of 420 million, there are commitments, Reunion cannot have two coastal roads »believes Jean-Pierre Marchau. There is an environmental impact, not to mention that it may have an impact on the stability of the cliff. If we remove the earthworks that make up the existing road, there is no saying that it will not collapse. But there is a lot of biodiversity that cannot be left behind. »

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