It is being called the largest engineering project in Mexico since the Aztecs built the Pyramids of Teotihuacan 1900 years ago. 1200 WOAI news reports the $1.5 billion Durango to Mazatlan Superhighway is set to open this fall, marking a major engineering advance for Mexico.
"This will change northern Mexico for good," Frank Cordova, the Secretary of Tourism for the Mexican coastal state of Sinaloa tells 1200 WOAI news. "And it is definitely going to improve land communication between the United States and Mexico."
The highway has been a top priority for three Mexican Presidential Administrations, and in addition to making it possible to drive, on American-style 'Interstate' type highways, from Laredo Texas all the way to the Pacific Coast resort of Mazatlan, the road will open much of Northern Mexico which has been prime recruiting ground for the violent drug cartels, up to legitimate business.
In fact, the only thing many Americans know about Sinaloa is that it is the home of the Sinaloa Cartel, the perceived 'winner' in Mexico's bloody drug wars. The Sinaloa Cartel has carried out beheadings and other atrocities across northern Mexico, including one infamous incident not far from the area where the Superhighway will travel.
Cordova says his interest is in helping turn the magnificent colonial beach city of Mazatlan into an international tourist destination to rival Cancun. He points out Mazatlan has already been named a 'Magic City,' a designation which allows it to receive special funding and promotion as a tourist destination.
"This is now a much much safer place and it much easier to get here," he said. "We are not only about eight hours away from the U.S. border."
He says the new road cuts the travel time across the Sierra Madre in half. The current route, the sometimes infamous 'Devil's Backbone' on Highway 40, was a white knuckle drive for many American motorists.
"This old highway was particularly dangerous, especially for our American neighbors, our visitors to the north, who had motor homes," he said.
The new Superhighway includes the highest bridge in the Western Hemisphere, 1321 feet over the Baluarte River which divides the states of Sinaloa and Durango. That makes the bridge about as high as the Empire State Building.
Former President Felipe Calderon has called the Superhighway and the bridge 'a symbol of the prosperity we want for Mexico, a symbol of the future.'
It also represents a blow against organized crime activity in Northern Mexico stronger than any police or military action against the cartels. Calderon says the road to defeating crime is to allow people in northwest Mexico to be able to have access to good legal jobs.
"By opening these activities," he said. "We shut down other activities we don't want."
Investment does in fact appear to be following the Superhighway project. Delphi, the Michigan based auto marts maker, has already announced plans to build a plant in Durango. Chinese and Chilean firms have also announced plans to move into the region. All of them cited the new quick travel to the Port of Mazatlan over the new Superhighway as a major reason for their decision to locate in Durango, where average wages remain among the lowest in the Americas, about $13 a day.
The Sierra Madre has long been known as one of the most rugged and inhospitable areas of Mexico, making it the likely place for illegal activities to grow and flourish. The reputation was honed by films like Humphrey Bogart's 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,' which portrayed the area as lawless, and run by criminals and corrupt 'Federales.'
Currently, the U.S. government urges Americans to avoid the mountains of Sinaloa. Cordova hopes this highway, and the commerce it will bring to his state, will relegate those warnings, like Bogart's film, to the distant past.