Saint-Denis (Reunion), correspondence
Seen from above, the cliff does not look so terrifying anymore. The Reunion motorist dominates the landscape. To his right, the Indian Ocean as far as the eye can see, to his left, he no longer even sees the said “ old road » of the coastline. The 50 km/h limit in certain places allows him to admire the landscape from the top of the two lanes.
Twelve years after the official launch of the project, the new coastal road was finally opened to traffic on Sunday 28 August. Well almost, since it is only accessible in one direction, from Saint-Denis to the Grande Chaloupe. The rest of the route to La Possession inevitably passes at the foot of the rock walls. In the opposite direction of traffic, users heading towards the capital of Reunion still find themselves stuck on the two lanes below the cliff. And that the time of the repair work of the accropodes  damaged from the dike.
Whatever. Some motorists, in cars or on two wheels, nevertheless made the trip to be among the first to take the 8.7 km section which traces a straight line to the west, a hundred meters from the coast, at the above the waves. The work is known as “ the most expensive road in the world » . Far from over, the NRL has already entered the annals of Reunion.
- This partial opening takes place 12 years after the official launch of the project. © Reunion Region
Since 2010, the construction of this pharaonic road has made headlines and made the headlines many times in the local press. Exorbitant and uncontrollable additional costs, investigation by the national financial prosecutor’s office for corruption and favouritism, ecological aberrations, judicial and administrative chronicles…
The project was launched in 2010 by the former regional president, Didier Robert, and his team. The official objective: to protect the 80,000 motorists who use this extremely busy highway every day from falling rocks. 21 people have died in this way since the construction of this road in 1976. The regional executive then retained the project to build the road over the sea. Other options were thus ruled out: that of a road halfway up the cliff, a tunnel, the installation of avalanche barriers to avoid falling rocks or even the creation of a tram-train. At that time, public transport was not popular, and could even seem retrograde, when the car appeared as the hallmark of comfort and modernity.
The chosen option is then to build a first section in the form of a viaduct and a second in the form of a dyke, in order in particular to meet the expectations of carriers. For lack of materials for the construction of the dyke part, the site progressed slowly before being interrupted, then discontinued in 2020. This question of materials, although sizeable, had not been anticipated. The road therefore ends… in the sea.
- The different road sections along the coast. © Reunion Region
An article from Reporterre traces the incredible story of the construction of this structure by the large multinationals Bouygues and Vinci. In 2021, the new mandate at the head of the Reunion Region inherited the baby – and the budgetary chasm that goes with it – promising that it will finish the road. The option of creating a dike for the missing part, ie 2.7 km, was immediately ruled out by the new regional majority. Thus, Huguette Bello, the president, intends to give up on the project of operating a megaquarry in Bois-Blanc (Saint-Leu), which had triggered the ire of citizen associations created for the occasion.
The Srepen association — the Reunionese Society for the Study and Protection of Nature — can only be satisfied with this decision of the “ any viaduct » which she has defended from the start. Indeed, compared to the dyke option, it has the advantage of less damaging the seabed as well as the specific fauna and flora of the cliff. Nourished by sea spray, the latter is an exceptional biotope that is home to a unique species, the straw-en-queue wood.
“ At the level of the Port, there are new species of fish and coral, a whole environment which is being reconstituted », explains the former president of the Srepen. The coastal area is also frequented by marine mammals, whales and dolphins.
“ The complete route will not be delivered before 2028-2030 »
What will be the consequences of the construction of a viaduct for this environment ? New studies will have to be carried out to find out. The previous study by the National Council for the Protection of Nature (CNPN)dated 2018, already mentioned “ proven negative impacts, insufficient consideration and uncertainties relating to the environmental impacts of the NRL ». After the state check, the public should be invited to give their opinion.
“ The complete route will not be delivered before 2028-2030 », has already announced the Regional President, Huguette Bello. A delay of ten years is therefore very likely on the scheduled delivery date. “ We will have well exceeded the mandate of Huguette Bello »underlines Jean-Pierre Marchau, regional secretary of Europe ecology the greens.
“ At the end of the year, the Region is obliged to organize the Assises de la Mobilitéhe adds. This may be an opportunity for Reunionese to give their opinion. Aren’t they tired of us building roads, waiting for buses that aren’t on time, etc.? ? » The ecologist, if he recognizes that it was necessary to connect the viaduct, considers that finishing the road is not a priority. He would prefer to reinject the funds into alternatives to all-cars: the installation of rail transport, for example. “ You realizehe said, an urban tramway costs between 400 and 500 million euros. There, we will put approximately the price of two urban trams, all the financing of the Region is monopolized to finish this road, which will not solve the problems of traffic jams. »
- Elements of the dike that are already damaged risk generating further additional costs. © Reunion Region
The total cost of the road is now estimated at 2.4 billion euros, but many uncertainties remain as to the evolution of the additional costs: after two years, nearly a thousand accropodes are already damaged while the shell that they form is supposed to be indestructible. How much will their repair cost ? How strong are the piles of the viaduct ? Will it be possible to repatriate from Rotterdam to Reunion the megabarge Zuritewhich was used to build the pillars of the first viaduct before being put up for sale ? What compensation will the multinationals finally be entitled to in the name of the hazards that have arisen since the first pickaxe ?
The Region is already letting it be known that it will not implement certain environmental compensation measures such as the “ disassembly » of the current coastal road valued at €50 million. But does she really have a choice? ? “ If the Region wants to obtain state aid of 420 million, there are commitments, Reunion will not be able to have two coastal roads »believes Jean-Pierre Marchau. “ There is an environmental impact, not to mention that there could be an effect on the solidity of the cliff. If we remove the earthwork that constitutes the current road, nothing says that it cannot collapse. But there is a rich biodiversity that cannot be abandoned. »