A rural town’s river vanished. Is Chile’s constitution to blame?
By David Pollock
2 August 2011
Chile has a proud and proud tradition of building bridges between land and water. The city of Valdivia, the capital of the central Bolivian province of La Araucanía, sits atop the Valdivianos River; the small fishing settlement of Iquique is at the mouth of the Iquique River. Chile’s first bridge, the San Diego, was a suspension bridge, carrying a road across the dry valley of the Iquique River. Two of its four suspension towers collapsed during a strong El Niño winter in 1989, forcing motorists to sit in snow for several hours at a time and causing the death of over one hundred people.
Over the next few days, as rain began falling again, workers were digging out the old piers that support the bridges. They are replacing them with a solid concrete structure. They do not want to dig them up and take them back to the site where they were originally built. They want to leave them in place and reuse them. They say they will be more seismically sound if they remain intact and continue carrying vehicles over the river when the bridges are removed.
The concrete and steel structure will carry the railway tracks from Iquique to Santiago, a distance of some 569 kilometres. It is one of eight bridges that Santiago and La Araucanía have between them. The city has an international airport, but no bridge to connect it to the rest of the country. The bridge they are replacing is the only one that will be able to carry trucks. All of them will remain in place until they are structurally sound enough to carry freight and passengers.
The Valdivia–Punchbowl Link Road, part of Chile’s national highway system, will be closed for construction for the next three months beginning tomorrow. The section includes the bridges and the tunnels that will connect the city and the southernmost reaches of Chile’s north-central Patagonian region. It will be the first highway section in the country to be closed for construction since the 1950s, when the highway was built between Santiago and Puerto Montt.
On Sunday evening, after it was announced that the Valdivia–Punchbowl Link Road would be closed, the