New road brings relief to overstretched infrastructure
Easing the congestion brought on by a soaring population has been the goal of a major new express road on the island of Réunion. With its population up by almost a third in just under a decade, the island has welcomed the opening in June 2009 of a 34km long two by two lane connection.
“The Route des Tamarins was only made possible through high levels of human commitment, technical know-how and unprecedented financial support from various districts, the French state and Europe. This extraordinary infrastructure brings Réunion squarely into the 21st Century.”
Didier Robert, President of the Region
Now described as the new backbone of Réunion, the road which runs along the west coast of the island links the administrative districts of Saint Paul in the north and Etang-Salé in the south.
Taking the scenic route
Work began on the Route des Tamarins in 2003 to ease traffic on the RN1. This, the main coastal route, had become highly congested to the point of being dangerous. With the population and tourism boom, the number of cars on the roads had risen steadily between 1980 and 1990. In 1990 the number had multiplied by 2.5 compared with 1.5 further inland. The late President of the Regional Council (1998-2010), Paul Vergès, was responsible for getting the project off the ground.
The coastal routes are generally more popular as a result of the centre of the island’s highly volcanic and mountainous terrain. In view of the uneven terrain, which also lines the coast, the new road represents a real technical achievement. Bridges, tunnels and viaducts were all part of the development, as the route crosses ravines, gorges and cliffs.
Engineering prowess in action
As many as 26 non-standard engineering structures were built, four of which have become internationally renowned – the viaducts of Saint-Paul, the Grande Ravine, the Trois-Bassins and the Ravine Fontaine.
The impressive s-shaped corbelled bridge of Saint-Paul in the north stretches 756 metres long and 35 metres high, with an incline of about 6%. The self-supporting Grande Ravine spans a gap 320 metres long and 170 metres deep, overlooking abundant fauna and flora of little known ravines.
The Trois-Bassins bridge is a remarkable arch-shaped structure which seems to float elegantly against a vast landscape. The Fontaine structure bridges the banks of the Fontaine ravine, 110 metres apart, and with no supporting structure below.
Innovation beyond architecture
While the new route is expected to accommodate upwards of 40 000 vehicles per day by 2015, the structures have been designed in such a way as to protect the fragile ecosystem at the bottom of the various ravines and to safeguard the natural characteristics of the landscape by using a limited number of piers.
Rainwater processing systems have also been installed, together with anti-noise panels, to reduce pollution. Renewable energy is also being given a boost with the installation of solar panels.