Currently, the city has undertaken an ambitious public works program that is designed to transform the chaotic road system into an organized network of upgraded thoroughfares and efficient mass transit. The 20-year plan, an extension of efforts begun in the mid-1990s, has begun to take physical form with the Miguel Grau Freeway in the heart of central Lima.

For centuries, Lima was the center of Spain's colonies in the new world. This city on the far western edge of South America was the home of the Spanish viceroy who oversaw all of the empire's interests on the continent. Lima's status made it a center of commerce and trade and gained it the moniker of "the city of kings."

Admiral Miguel Grau Freeway Named for Peru's naval hero of the War of the Pacific Miguel Grau. He defended the country from Chilean invaders until he was killed in battle on Oct. 8, 1879.
Owner: City of Lima
Contractors: Consorcio Via Expresa Grau; ICCGSA, Corporacion de Ingenieria Civil
Cost: $18.5 million
Length: 3.5 km with a 1.8-km submerged section
Bridges: Six traffic, two pedestrian
Website: http://www.emape.gob.pe
Source: EMAPE

The $18.5-million project is slated for completion next summer. The 3.5-kilometer roadway will include a 1.8-km submerged section exclusively for buses. The project also includes the construction of six traffic bridges and two pedestrian bridges.

By the end of October, the city will begin work on the next phase of the plan - a $15- million underground transit center underneath Grau Plaza at the west end of the Grau Freeway project. The new station is expected to be completed in the spring of 2007 and will permit all mass transit vehicles to travel underneath the city center. Traffic engineers predict that this will ease traffic by as much as 5,000 vehicles each hour.

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    The Grau Plaza project is the beginning of a $210-million transportation corridor that will run 35 km roadways from the Comas neighborhood in the far north of Lima to Chorrillos in the south. In all, more than 100 km of roadwork is planned along a corridor that transports more than 700,000 people daily. The master plan features 34 stations with four major terminals including the one at Grau Plaza.

    The Grau Expressway is the project's keystone. Without upgrading this link, the next projects could not occur, says Jose Justiniano, head of engineering department for EMAPE, Lima's public works agency. "Grau is very important because it is where the major roadways from each direction meet," he says. "We cannot begin working on these other projects until we have completed the improvements here."

    Lima's transportation problems result from decades of unrestrained growth. The city's current population, approximately 8.5 million, is almost double the number of residents living in the city 25 years ago. Officials believe as much as 70 percent of that growth has been informal, without any regulation or means of planning.

    A key reason for the unique demographic is a result of the country's violent recent past. In 1980, a little-known extremist group called the Shining Path began a war against the government from the rural highlands. Over the next 20 years the conflict claimed as many as 70,000 lives. Millions fled to the relative safety of Lima. The economic crisis that followed accelerated the process.

    "The problems we are dealing with are because the city has grown in a disorderly manner," Justiniano says. "It has not had an urban plan so it has grown in cones to the south, north and west where people have immigrated and settled."

    These cones were created through land invasions in the open areas around the metropolis. Although these spontaneous settlements had been occurring in Lima since the 1950s, in the last two decades these vast suburbs, called pueblos jovenes, sprang up overnight with thousands of residents. These mini-cities had no infrastructure to speak of and the ongoing political and economic turmoil made such improvements impossible.

    The country's recent economic prosperity and relative political calm have allowed leaders like Lima's charismatic Mayor Luis Castañeda to divert more resources to the situation. This year, the city is expected to spend a record $105 million on infrastructure projects.

    "Our other problem is that, regrettably, our public transport is also very disorganized and most are vehicles that only carry a small number of people; usually about a dozen or less," says Adolfo Rubatto, coordinator of works at EMAPE, the municipal department of roadways. "As a result, the traffic congestion is even greater."

    Many of the residents of the suburbs work in other locations in the city and, since most lack the funds to own their own vehicles and are forced to use mass transit. In Lima that typically consists of three types of transport: regular sized buses, collective use taxis and "combis," Peru's distinctive contribution to mass transit, van-sized buses.

    Buses, cars and pushcarts all vie for space on Lima's clogged streets. (Photo by C.J. Schexnayder for ENR)

    Most of these vehicles are run by private companies and have little to no regulation. More than 50,000 of registered vehicles deluge the streets each day. This "gypsy" fleet accounts for four-fifths of the daily trips within Lima, according to a 2003 study by the Interamerican Development Bank.

    These problems come to a head at Grau Avenue, Justiniano explains. The road is the lynchpin for four arteries extending from the heart of Lima. An immense portion of the traffic traveling across the metropolitan area, particularly the informal mass transit, is forced to use the road by default.

    "Grau supports about 80 percent of the public transportation in the city, and is located next to the center of Lima," Justiniano said. "It is the point of entry for several highways that converge on the center of Lima that lead to the most populated districts of the metropolis, zones that have grown tremendously in the last 10 to 15 years."

    There will be dedicated lanes for bus traffic. (Photo by C.J. Schexnayder for ENR)

    The Grau project is designed to lighten the mass transit vehicular load by grade separation: a set of submerged, dedicated bus lanes separate from the regular traffic. There will be no access for combis. In addition, the city has begun steering riders onto buses by phasing out combis.

    The new roadway consists of two layers of asphalt 50 meters wide throughout the double-tiered section but only 45 meters wide where the two levels converge. The lower section will be 16 meters wide with two lanes in each direction. Stairways will allow bus passengers to ascend to street level. On either side of the upper portion will be three lanes taking up 12 meters.

    The project utilizes precasting due to the space and transportation limitations of the site, said Armando Molina, EMAPE's managing director for the job. "It is faster, cheaper and safer," he says. "And we are able to be working in different places at the same time."

    Precast walls will speed construction pace in a tigh space, engineers say. (Photo courtesy of EMAPE )

    A total of 1,450 precast wall sections will be used for the submerged section of the roadway. Each is placed on a concrete foundation 1.5 meters deep with bridge supports 2.8 meters deep.

    The heavy gravel in the soil makes it necessary to remove a great of the existing material. Running constantly, a fleet of 40 trucks conveys the rock through the city more than 10 km to the coastline where it is dumped into the sea. To deal with congestion, the truckers haul at off times and extensively during the evening, says Manuel Saavedra, director of works for ICCGSA, one of the consortium members..

    Workers prepare one of 1,450 concrete wall forms on Grau project. (Photo courtesy of EMAPE )

    The project's biggest workaround, according to Molina, construction is a pair of 60- kilovolt power lines buried a meter underground . They run parallel to the entire roadway on the north side. These vital trunk lines cannot be cut for any extended period of time.

    The city constructs half of the roadway first and installs new, non-functioning power lines outside the south roadway wall as work progresses. When the new line is completed, the city's power will be immediately transferred to it and work will commence on the other side of the roadway.

    While the Grau project and the Comas-Chorrillos Corridor are ambitious undertakings for the city, Justiniano said there are already plans to fully connect the Pan-American Highway through the metropolis as well as a transportation loop around the urban area.

    "Lima is continuing to grow and we have to complete these works to make up for lost opportunities," he said. "But we still have to prepare for the needs of tomorrow."

    hile the glory days of the Spanish conquest have ebbed into the Peru's uneasy past, its capital remains a major modern metropolitan center with all the headaches that entails. Mass transit ranks high among the problems it is struggling to bring under control.