Peru's new highway to the future
The Interoceanic Highway, which will connect Peru's Pacific coast to the shores of the Atlantic in Brazil, could revolutionize the region much as the transcontinental railroad did in the US in 1869.
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The Interoceanic Highway spurred Plaza Vea, a Lima-based chain of big-box retail stores, to open its first outlet here in December. Trucks deliver goods via the highway, and shoppers are welcomed in a smooth parking lot with space for dozens of vehicles.Skip to next paragraph
Why it almost empty on a weekday morning? Few Juliaca residents own cars, so a one-stop shop isn’t practical – so far. The new road may drive vehicle sales. The trade association Araper projects that Peruvians will buy 140,000 new vehicles this year, a 16 percent rise from 2010. While provinces outside Lima accounted for only 7 percent of vehicle sales in 2003, the association said that figure rose to 22 percent in 2010.
Reconnecting with Peru
At Juliaca, the highway branches again, making three parallel routes to the coast. All three must traverse sandy deserts veined with slim agricultural valleys. Each of the three ends at a port that is supposed to become an important hub for trade with the Pacific Rim.
The towns of Ilo and Matarani, about 75 miles apart, already have multipurpose ports that may be expanded once highway traffic takes off. But the northernmost of the three port towns, Marcona, is another story. Its promised "superport" remains an unmarked patch of sand and a broken-down pier.
Now, with the opening of the road, the town hopes to reconnect to its home continent.
Jimmy Ybarra spends his days mixing cement powder, desert sand, and water to make concrete, and pounding the mix into molds to make cinder blocks for construction. He got his break when a local businessman built a five-story tourist hotel, boosting demand. He says tourism is growing as visitors seek the area's unspoiled beaches and penguin colonies.
"People are coming from Colombia, Argentina, Brazil," he says.
It remains to be seen how much of Brazil's Pacific-bound trade will end up on the road, says Cesar Bonamigo from the Brazilian embassy. Products such as soybeans and iron ore are unlikely to be carried by truck over the mountains, as it's cheaper to send them by barge down Brazil's rivers.
But the road is almost complete, and it's already connecting Marcona to the Peruvian interior. From the beaches of this coastal port back east 900 miles to the border town of Assis where Raul Pereira works as a car mechanic, people are building hotels and filling stations, while forest dwellers, farmers, and merchants look on with cautious hope.