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Costly stadium no answer to Manaus' traffic woes

Published on NewsOK Modified: June 13, 2014 at 12:05 am •  Published: June 12, 2014

MANAUS, Brazil (AP) — The 2 million people of this Amazon rainforest metropolis were promised traffic relief. As a World Cup host city, they would have a dedicated rapid bus lane and a state-of-the-art monorail system to untangle the congestion tying up their streets.

But as Manaus prepares for its first World Cup match Saturday, the only change for commuters has been a new paint job, in the nation's yellow and green colors, brightening many of the underpasses they see as they sit in traffic.

What Manaus now boasts, however, is a new 44,500-seat stadium. The grand Amazonia Arena, with its wicker basket-styled frame, would be a worthy field for any top-division soccer team — if only Manaus actually had one to use it after the World Cup ends. And visitors to this remote city will pass through a newly renovated airport, as long as it's not flooded by the rainstorms common here.

The project that most would have improved the daily lives of local residents, the $810 million overhaul of its public transportation system, was cut from the Sport Ministry's official list of World Cup infrastructure projects.

"It's shameful," said fishmonger Gilberto de Moraes Alberto, who hawks "jaquari" river fish at a popular market on the Rio Negro River. "This is a poor city and the needs here are enormous, but all we get are empty promises while the politicians stuff their pockets."

The fate of several projects to improve everyday life in Brazil's 12 host cities has unleashed widespread complaints of money wasted on fancy stadiums rather than invested in building schools or hospitals. Public dissatisfaction is particularly pitched in Manaus, where both the airport renovation and stadium construction ran over schedule and over budget.

The Amazonia Arena ended up costing $294 million, some 25 percent more than projected. It was supposed to have been finished a year ago, but even just three weeks ago, crews were scrambling to finish wiring and other crucial work. England and Italy will open the first match here on Saturday, followed by Cameroon vs. Croatia, the United States vs. Portugal, and Honduras vs. Switzerland.

Once the World Cup ends, and the estimated 52,000 foreign travelers leave Manaus, locals wonder what use the stadium will be to them. Manaus lacks a top-division soccer team, and the local club attracts just a few hundred spectators to its games.

Across the Solimoes River, in the impoverished town of Sao Pedro, a crowd withstood the suffocating tropical humidity to watch a recent tournament of local soccer clubs. Stray dogs angled for fallen morsels among spectators downing beers and junk food around the pitch. Players, many of them barefoot, raced up and down the field. Enthusiasm was running high: The winning team stood to pocket around $2,000 — prize money raised from the local community. The idea of a multi-million dollar stadium in Manaus sparked angered reaction.

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