RIO DE JANEIRO—A new subway line expected to form the backbone of public transportation when this seaside city hosts the Olympics in August will be ready on time, officials said Monday,
Touring an almost-finished station at the base of the sprawling Rocinha favela, Rio de Janeiro state Transportation Secretary Rodrigo Vieira said the 9.77 billion real ($2.6 billion), 10-mile addition to the city’s Metro system should begin serving passengers in July.
The new Metro line will be key to moving thousands of visitors between Rio’s main hotel districts and the region known as Barra da Tijuca, where the Olympic Village and many sports venues are located. Separated by towering cliffs, the two areas are currently connected only by an elevated highway that is often choked with traffic and a curvy, two-lane road that clings precipitously to the mountainside.
The tight schedule has fueled concern that an unforeseen technical or financial hiccup could delay the Metro project and force Olympics organizers to come up with a last-minute alternative.
In an email to the International Olympic Committee that leaked to local press last month, Mayor Eduardo Paes—who isn’t directly overseeing the Metro—said he had heard that the project “is at a high level risk.” City officials, Mr. Paes said, had “already prepared an alternative that I really think we should start studying now and put it to the IOC’s consideration.”
The mayor’s comments reportedly irritated Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezão, whose administration is in charge of the Metro line. Speaking to reporters on Feb. 20, Mr. Paes said he was confident that the project would be ready on time but that he merely wanted to have a backup.
The temporary bus routes that the city will likely set up if the subway isn’t running would be an imperfect replacement. Traffic between Barra da Tijuca and famous beaches like Ipanema or Copacabana is notoriously bad and can easily stretch a 20-minute drive to an hour or more. If city officials set up exclusive lanes for buses during the Olympics, they could wreak havoc on local commuters.
Messrs. Pezão and Vieira on Monday played down the risk, noting that workers have less than 200 meters of tunnel left to bore. Save for a bit of construction material lying in corners, the station they were touring appeared mostly finished, with lights on and at least one escalator working.
Federal officials at the event also assured reporters that there will be no problem in releasing the remaining 489 million reais in financing from development bank BNDES.
“This project is perhaps the most emblematic legacy of the Olympic Games for Rio de Janeiro,” Gilberto Kassab, Brazil’s minister of cities, said.