11 May 2010

The Riviera Maya in Mexico is Getting a New Airport

At 9 a.m. this morning (CDT), Mexico finally opened bidding for the construction and operation of a new international airport. It will be located on the stretch of Caribbean Coast, also known as the Riviera Maya. Technical proposals for the airport must be received by November 15, though bidding companies must be approved before then by the Mexican commission overseeing corporate competition.

The long-anticipated project has been years in the planning and has been delayed a number of times.

The new airport will be located west of Tulum, at the southern end of the Riviera Maya. (The Riviera Maya runs south of Cancun down to Tulum.) A 1,500-hectare lot (about 3,707 acres) has been set aside for the airport, which is expected to cost about 3.2 billion pesos. The proposed airport is expected to be able to handle three million passengers, even in its early phases.

Mexico president Felipe Calderon formally re-launched the airport project in a speech on March 22. Within days, however, the Ministry of Roads and Transports postponed—yet again—the date to open bidding. Among naysayers, this fueled their skepticism about a project that has been on-again, off-again for years.

But on the Riviera Maya itself, concrete evidence—literally—that the airport would happen has been going up left and right for months. Today, driving along the Caribbean coastal highway from Cancun down to Tulum, you see federal- and state-financed construction everywhere.

“The infrastructure to support a new airport is in place,” says Shawn Bandick, a Canadian realtor in Playa del Carmen. “They’re putting millions of dollars into infrastructure.”

Along the highway that runs down Mexico’s Caribbean Coast, new overpasses have been built at the towns of Puerto Morelos and Aventuras, near Cancun, and are under construction at Playa del Carmen. The overpasses allow through traffic to head directly down the coast, easing congestion at the beach resorts. At Akumal, a new road around the back of town, locals say, can easily connect up with an airport access road. And in Tulum, the beach town closest to the airport’s proposed location, an entire new downtown is under construction. Workers there busily lay new cobblestone walkways, carefully stepping over surveyors’ gridlines that mark off new commercial lots.

Much of this infrastructure was already needed for the Riviera Maya, which has exploded as a tourist destination over the last decade—outpacing the government’s own projections. But it also paves the way for the new airport—and the additional tourism it is expected to bring. At present, Cancun is the only international airport serving Mexico’s Caribbean Coast.

The launch of the new airport bidding process is also something of a personal triumph for Calderon. When he first took office as president, Calderon set forth an ambitious agenda to improve Mexico’s infrastructure—for expanding and upgrading highways, railways, sea ports and airports. The infrastructure program was meant to be a hallmark of his administration, a key element of his legacy as president. And a new Riviera Maya airport was a crown jewel in that program. But the drug war, the global economic recession, and even the H1N1 flu last year all conspired to divert energy and funds from his original goals.

With the bidding process now under way, Calderon may see the airport largely constructed before his term ends in 2012.

After years of fits and starts, today’s announcement finally justifies the optimism of a sign at the highway turnoff near Tulum that leads to Cobá. Down this road is the parcel of land set aside for the new airport, where nothing—as yet—exists.

The sign reads simply “Aeropuerto”.

Article Posted on May 11, 2010 by Glynna Prentice @ InternationalLiving.Com

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