Incomplete Highway Overpass Near World Cup Stadium Collapses, Killing Two

A crushed bus under a highway overpass in Belo Horizonte, Brazil CREDIT: YOUTUBE/ITN
A crushed bus under a highway overpass in Belo Horizonte, Brazil CREDIT: YOUTUBE/ITN

A highway overpass that was only partially finished in Belo Horizonte, which has hosted five World Cup matches so far, collapsed onto the road below and killed at least two people while wounding at least 23 others on Thursday.

The overpass was meant to be finished in time for the World Cup to speed bus traffic between the town’s airports. It was one of the urban mobility projects meant to overhaul Brazil’s transportation infrastructure ahead of the World Cup, but it fell behind schedule and was still under construction at the time of the collapse.

Hanna Cristina dos Santos, a municipal bus driver, was one of the dead, and her five-year-old daughter, also on the bus, was taken to the hospital and is in good condition. The driver of a passenger car that got crushed in the collapse is also presumed dead.

On her Twitter account, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said, “It was with sadness that I found out about the collapse of the viaduct in Belo Horizonte,” adding, “At this moment of pain, I offer my solidarity to the families of the victims.”

Delays have marked many of the projects Brazil undertook ahead of the World Cup. One of the major stadiums, Arena Corinthians, was only finished a month before hosting the first match of the tournament, and stadiums in Curitiba and Cuiaba were both incomplete 100 days before the start.

But the stadiums at least got priority, whereas many of the public infrastructure projects that were promised alongside the World Cup as a lasting investment have been delayed or canceled. Part of the reason is that construction costs soared from an original proposal of less than $1 billion on stadiums to $3 billion in public funding.

As focus shifted to the stadiums, other projects like trains and subways were left behind. Access ramps and other projects are unfinished in Natal. A rail system in Cuiaba “currently looks like a dirt track running through town,” according to the Wall Street Journal. An expansion of Fortaleza’s airport ran aground and instead the city erected a temporary terminal under a tent. As of March, a rail line connecting Rio and Sao Paulo was unfinished, as were airports in Cuiaba and other cities.

That has meant that “way more money [was] spent on sports infrastructure than they were supposed to,” sports economist Victor Matheson told ThinkProgress’s Travis Waldron last summer. “And so what was sold as all long-term development seems to be shifting toward, ‘Let’s get all the sports stuff done.’ So you get all the spending on the stuff that doesn’t have good long-term benefits while ignoring the whole reason the thing was sold the way it was.”

Brazilians have been skeptical of those promises anyway. Large street protests began during the Confederations Cup in June of last year focused on how much the country is spending to host the World Cup. And in May, thousands took to the streets in 50 Brazilian cities to protest the event and draw attention to the country’s need to invest in education, health care, and housing. Those protests have also been marked with police brutality against the activists, with a police officer reportedly firing live bullets into the crowds, video of police beating a fan, and the death of a 17-year-old boy during a demonstration.

Given all of these problems, the majority of Brazilians oppose the World Cup because the $11 billion spent on the event detracts from social services.