Rio Rebuffs Concern on Olympic Metro Advance, Needs More Funds

  • Metro needs more funding from development bank BNDES
  • Additional 200-meter tunnel needed to reach Olympic venue

Rio de Janeiro rejected concerns its new metro line won’t be ready for the summer Olympics, with the state’s Transport Secretary Rodrigo Vieira saying there is time to drill the remaining 200 meters of tunnel needed to reach the venue where the games will take place.

The so-called Linha 4 metro is on track to be delivered in July, Vieira told reporters Wednesday, declining to say whether it would be at the month’s start or end. The Olympics begin August 5 and, in an e-mail to the International Olympic Committee leaked last week, Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes expressed concern it wouldn’t be done in time to transport spectators to the main center of competition.

“With the schedule we have now, there is no chance of us not operating during the Olympics, but we’re monitoring daily,” Vieira said. “It’s not the time to lose focus. We’re in the final sprint.”

The subway line has been among the improvements trumpeted by Rio ahead of the first games in South America. It will provide a vital link between the touristic South Zone and Barra de Tijuca, where the majority of events will be staged. Following the games, the project will reduce car traffic and commute times to Rio’s downtown, including for residents of the Rocinha favela, the largest shantytown in the country.

Rio needs additional funds from state development bank BNDES to finish on time, according to Vieira. BNDES has already approved 6.2 billion reais ($1.6 billion) for the works. The bank is now waiting on authorization from the treasury to release an additional 445 million reais in funds and is studying a request from the state for another 989 million reais, it said in an e-mailed statement.

Vieira assumed his post Tuesday following the surprise resignation of his predecessor Carlos Osorio, whose departure came just days after local paper O Globo published the e-mail from Rio’s mayor to the IOC. Paes reportedly said he’d been trying for weeks to “find out what’s really going on” with the construction and that he’d heard it is at “high level risk.”

Paes’ e-mail included internal discussions and debates undertaken to assess the situation and develop contingency plans in case of problems, and it is important to prepare for all situations, City Hall’s press office said in an e-mailed statement, adding that the mayor is confident the metro will be ready. The IOC has “no indication at the moment” that the subway won’t be delivered in time for the Games, according to an e-mail from its press office.

Transport has long been a concern in Rio, where commuters are often stranded in snarled traffic for several hours to and from work. In addition to the metro, Rio has created a rapid bus lane to improve transit toward the main Olympic Park in Barra.

Asked repeatedly whether the metro station adjacent to the Rocinha favela would be open during the games, Vieira said the state is focused on completing the works and that the operational plan for the Olympics is still being discussed. Rocinha had almost 70,000 residents in 2010, more than any other single favela in the nation, according to the most recent census from national statistics institute IBGE.

To deliver the metro on time for the games, engineers have delayed the opening of one of the stations along the route to early 2017 and postponed a connection to another line until after the games.

In July, a tribunal that oversees state government spending said the subway was at “high risk” of not being ready for the games. The warning from Rio’s audit court was based on an investigation through Dec. 2014. Brazil has a history of missing deadlines and blowing out budgets on big construction projects, including most of the 12 stadiums built or refurbished for last year’s World Cup.

“We are confident,” Vieira said. “We want to operate that line in July.”

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