Fewer Projects in the Face of a New Crisis?By Pedro Alcalá | Mon, 03/23/2020 - 17:35
Infrastructure development, specifically the launch and promotion of large-scale projects, has always been a central pillar of President López Obrador’s agenda. It could be considered the most important aspect, along with his emphasis on the public oil and gas sector. Evidence of this can be found all over his political career, from the construction of the Anillo Periferico’s second level during his time as Mexico City mayor to his experiences in his southeastern home state of Tabasco, where he shared his general views on economic growth through grand and visible projects such as the Mayan Train.
These promises are starkly different to the president’s declaration yesterday morning where he said he is now hesitant to propose or mention new infrastructure projects due to the “coming economic crisis” caused by COVID-19 and falling crude prices. These remarks were made during a speech delivered on the construction site of the new Larga-Ventanilla segment of the Oaxaca-Puerto Escondido highway, which is one of the most important commercial routes for the state of Oaxaca and the route to one of the most visited areas in all of Mexico. This project, in particular, was originally convened during Felipe Calderon’s tenure, but it is aligned with the López Obrador’s plan to strengthen southeastern states and ignite economic growth for the whole country. Just last year, national and statewide media were touting 2020 to be the year of “Oaxaca’s Superhighways,” with planned investments of over US$278 million. Now the President’s remarks suggest that these and other similar numbers and figures throughout the country will have to be scaled back.
It remains to be seen how these limitations will impact this administration’s “flagship” infrastructure projects, the Santa Lucia airport and the Mayan Train, which were already drawing criticism and controversy even before the crisis broke out. Santa Lucia always seemed like the more urgent one of these two projects given the role it had to play in attending Mexico City’s air traffic saturation. In the past, the Peña Nieto presidential administration was eventually direct in defining the cancelation of its planned Mexico City-Queretaro rail project once the impact of the 2014-2015 downturn on Mexico’s finances became clear. Other similar rail projects have languished in delays, such as the Mexico City-Toluca rail connection. It remains impossible to know whether a similar fate could await the Mayan Train or one of its planned segments. Close attention must be paid in the following days and weeks to learn how budgets and ambitions will pan out.