Thursday, March 4, 2021

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Infrastructure 42

Colombia’s national infrastructure agency (Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura, ANI) announced May 10 that excavation of the second tube of the “Tunel de Occidente” connecting Medellin westward to Santa Fe de Antioquia will be complete by October 2020.

The 4.6-kilometers-long, COP$420 billion (US$108 million) tunnel will enable four lines of divided highway as part of the “Mar 1” project linking Medellin to current and future Atlantic ports. The existing highway tunnel is restricted to two-way traffic on single lanes and suffers much congestion.

“The construction of the second tube of the Occidente tunnel has already registered a 75% progress in its excavation,” according to ANI. “It is expected that the tunnel staging or meeting of the two work fronts will take place in October 2020.”

Following national Health Ministry regulations, “all necessary preventive measures have been implemented for the care of workers defined in the biosafety protocol” to avoid Coronavirus infections, according to ANI.

Tunnels works continue 24 hours daily, seven days a week, employing “Jumbo Boomer XL3” robotic drilling technology, according to ANI.

“To date, a total of 3,456 meters have been excavated, 1,622 meters at the Medellín portal and 1,834 meters at the Santa Fe portal,” according to ANI.

Following excavation, next come paving, roofing, lighting, ventilation, safety and mechanical works in 2021 and 2022, with final completion expected by the end of 2022, according to ANI.

Including the tunnel expansion, the total “Mar 1” highway works are already 61% complete, added ANI executive vice-president Carlos García.

“Mar 1” not only includes the new tunnel and new four-lane highways between Medellin and Santa Fe de Antioquia, but also another 62 kilometers of highway upgrades between Santa Fe de Antioquia Cañasgordas, then connecting to “Mar 2.” A new, 426-meters-long bridge over the Cauca river connecting the Mar 1 highway project with the under-construction “Toyo” tunnel (Colombia’s longest) is also included.

Once complete, “Medellín and the coffee region will have a new alternative to go more quickly to the Caribbean Sea and the ports of Urabá. Today, a car takes eight hours to travel from Medellín to Necoclí, but with the Mar 1 and Mar 2 projects, this route is reduced to four hours,” according to ANI.

What’s more, the Mar 1 and Mar 2 projects -- together with the under-construction 'Autopistas Pacífico 1, 2, 3' highways -- “will facilitate foreign trade to and from the coffee region. Currently, the journey time in a truck from the coffee region to Urabá is 21 hours, but with the construction of these projects it will be reduced to 12 hours,” according to ANI.

The Medellin-based “Covipacifico” consortium building the “Pacifico 1” highway between Medellin’s southern suburbs (Ancon Sur) and the Cauca River town of Bolombolo on April 20 unveiled details on construction relaunch -- tied to strict Coronavirus-avoidance protocols.

According to the consortium, “some of the measures endorsed by the ANI [Colombia’s infrastructure agency] and the [Health Ministry Coronavirus prevention] audit are disinfection of personnel, [safe separation distances] on buses, modification of schedules for the use of common areas, cleaning of vehicles and spaces.

“Taking into account that the national government ordered the reactivation of transportation and public works (Decree 531 of April 8, 2020), the Pacific Highway Concessionaire (Covipacífico), presented to the ANI and the other authorities the biosafety protocol to protect the health of workers, road users and the community in general.

“Said plan has been socialized by the national government and the Antioquia government with the mayors of the southwest,” according to the consortium.

Among the new biosecurity measures adopted for construction restart:

1. Manual and frequent fumigation of tools and equipment used in construction, maintenance and operation activities.
2. Installation of 12 points for disinfecting personnel, four times a day.
3. Realignment of 10-hour worker shifts mainly to ensure compliance with distancing measures.
4. Checking of body temperatures and vital signs of workers before they enter vehicles.
5. Mandatory completion of a symptomatology questionnaire before boarding buses.
6. Any sign of symptoms means mandatory exclusion from transport and work sites.
6. Disinfection of buses. 
7. Mandatory minimum distance between workers at work sites.
8. Mandatory use of masks, disposable gloves and glasses.

Colombia’s national infrastructure agency (Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura, ANI) announced April 21 the restart of 12 crucial highway construction projects in Antioquia -- thanks to new biosafety protocols to avoid Coronavirus infections.

“Among the 12 infrastructure projects that will restart works are ‘Autopista al Mar 1,’ which seeks to bring Medellín closer to the main centers of commercial exchange such as the Caribbean Coast, the Pacific Coast and the Magdalena River,” according to ANI.

“Large-scale works stand out, such as the construction of the second tube of the western tunnel [connecting Medellin with the Mar 1 highway to Santa Fe de Antioquia], which is 4.6-kilometers-long and has registered progress of 75% to date.

“Meanwhile, in the Pacifico 1, 2 and 3 projects, which will connect the capital of Antioquia with the Valle del Cauca, the coffee region and the southwest of the country, works such as the Sinifaná tunnel [part of Pacifico 1] are already in waterproofing stage.

“The Mulatos tunnel -- which belongs to Pacífico 2 -- and the Pacifico 3 highway project both have restarted construction works, while the Thessalia tunnel --the largest and most important in the coffee region -- has successfully completed [end-to-end excavation] last March, totaling 3.5-kilometers in length,” ANI added.

Other crucial restarts include the “Vías del Nus” project (already 61% complete) connecting Medellin and northern Antioquia to the northern Atlantic coast; the “Conexión Norte” project ( 55% complete) connecting the municipality of Remedios to Zaragosa, Antioquia; and the just-restarted “Magdalena 2” project, which includes a nearly complete bridge over Rio Magdalena at Puerto Berrio, Antioquia.

In addition, more restarts include the Antioquia-Bolívar highway; the “Transversal de las Américas” highway; the “Devimed” project between Medellin, Marinilla and Santuario [Medellin-Bogota highway], and the Girardot-Honda–Puerto Salgar “Tramo La Dorada” projects in Antioquia, according to ANI.

Colombia’s Transport Ministry and the Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura (ANI, the national infrastructure agency) jointly announced April 16 a new financing deal to restart construction on the 114-kilometers-long “Autopista Rio Magdalena 2” highway project in Antioquia.

The COP$2.3 trillion (US$578 million) “fourth generation” (4G) highway project will connect northern Antioquia with the “Ruta del Sol” highway linking central Colombia with northern Caribbean freight ports.

The route first will link the towns of Remedios to Alto de Dolores (Maceo) and then Alto de Dolores onward to Puerto Berrío, Antioquia. Prior to this new finance deal, the project had only made 12% progress -- aside from the nearly-complete Rio Magdalena Bridge at Puerto Berrio.

As a result of this restart, 24 of the 29 nationwide “4G” projects soon will start to move ahead – although accompanied by new Health Ministry protocols to avoid Coronavirus infections.

“With the viability of this project, the connection between Medellín and Caucasia [Medio Magdalena region] on a new road will become a reality, reducing the travel time from six hours to four hours,” according to ANI.

Colombia’s Vice Minister of Infrastructure Olga Lucía Ramírez explained that thanks to an agreement with the construction concessionaire and workshops accompanied by the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, “the execution and materialization of this great project will be guaranteed, mitigating adverse effects for the Colombian state and capitalizing savings that exceed COP$160 billion [US$40 million].”

“These projected savings are the result of the decrease in the remuneration that otherwise would be paid to the concessionaire for the execution of all the works, as well as for the operation and maintenance of the highway,” according to ANI.

“With the agreement with the concession, today the financial viability of the project is being guaranteed with a clear execution schedule.

“It should be remembered that this concession had a change in its shareholding composition and was recently acquired by the Australian capital fund, IFM Investors, who have investments around the world of more than US$100 billion, of which nearly US$40 billion have been invested in infrastructure projects,” the agency added.

Cemex Colombia revealed in an April 13 filing with Colombia’s Superfinanciera corporate oversight agency that it has just restarted all cement/concrete production and dispatch operations -- thanks to certain Coronavirus quarantine-exemptions newly issued by the national government this month.

“In particular, from April 13 to April 27, 2020, in accordance with the provisions of the exceptions contained in [government Decree 531], Cemex Colombia will supply construction materials and supplies for the execution of permitted civil works, such as transport infrastructure works and public works (which are generally established as a new exception), those related to emergency care and road damage, and infrastructure works that cannot be suspended, civil and construction works that their state of progress of work or its characteristics present risks of technical stability and works related to the production of food, medicines and essential elements necessary to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, among others,” according to the Cemex filing statement.

Among the currently exempted-from-quarantine construction projects: the giant "Rio Magdalena Bridge" at Puerto Berrio, Antioquia, according to Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura (ANI, the national infrastructure development agency).

“This mega-work has an extension of 1.36 kilometers and crosses the Magdalena River to connect the departments of Antioquia and Santander,” according to ANI.

This bridge – part of the 144-kilometers-long “Magdalena 2” highway project by the “Río Magdalena SAS Highway Concession” – is “recognized as one of the most emblematic works of Colombian infrastructure by the ANI and is already 90% complete,” according to ANI.

Continuation of construction is required because “abrupt stopping of the execution of this type of structure would generate risks in its stability,” according to ANI.

“In total, this mega-project consists of four functional units which will connect the municipalities of Remedios, Vegachí, Yalí, Yolombó, Maceo and Puerto Berrío in Antioquia, and Cimitarra in Santander,” ANI added.

Antioquia Government Coordinating Highway Construction Restarts

On a related front, the Antioquia departmental government announced April 13 that -- because of the new national government decree allowing crucial infrastructure projects to continue if the projects also meet new biosafety rules -- “departments and municipalities will begin to normalize or regulate how these procedures” will be put into effect.

Antioquia’s Secretary of Infrastructure added that “to date, 19 paving projects have been detained, 41 projects halted in the area of public services, and another 150 projects related to the municipal or tertiary road network” were stalled by the Coronavirus quarantine under prior government rules.

However, even with the new, more-flexible rules, any project construction only would restart “after a conversation with the mayor where it is being carried out,” according to Antioquia Infrastructure Secretary Juan Pablo López Cortés.

For example: Restart of work on the crucial “Toyo Tunnel” that eventually will connect Medellin to Atlantic ports via the “Mar 1” and “Mar 2” highways would get the green light only following compliance with new Ministry of Health protective measures for workers, as well as consultations with local mayors, he added.

“A ‘Works Reactivation Committee’ has been created in the Antioquia Infrastructure Secretariat, including Covid-19 [prevention measures] and which also includes the Health Secretariat,” López said.

“This committee will evaluate each individual work project, as each contractor will send its biosanitary protocols and its start-up plan to the Ministry of Health.

“Once it is found that these [biosanitary] protocols are being complied with, and that the audits of the works show compliance with the ARL [Colombia's workers-compensation regime], and that contractors are able to restart works, then, following agreement with each of the Mayors, a decision will be made about reactivation of the works--  or at least on some of their fronts,” according to Secretary López.

The Antioquia Departmental government and local mayors likewise will coordinate with the Ministry of Health on biosafety-rule compliance for the “fourth-generation” (4G) major highway projects overseen by the ANI, he added.

The Ministry of Health has issued “circulars with very detailed manuals for each of the functions or operations to be carried out, such as the transportation of workers, the protection and safety elements that must be employed [and] daily reports of the health status of said workers,” according to Secretary López.

“In addition to this, the Antioquia Department will have an external audit team accompanying the Ministry of Health to follow these projects, their supplier chains and subcontractors, in order to assess that everything is in compliance -- or if otherwise, then sanctioning actions” will be imposed.


Colombia’s national government is about to unveil a new, COP$1.4 trillion (US$416 million) financing plan to ensure completion of the “phase two” section of highway connecting Santa Fe de Antioquia to the under-construction “Toyo” tunnel -- both of which will link Medellin westward to new and existing Atlantic freight ports as part of the “Mar 1” and “Mar 2” highways.

In a January 22 press conference, Colombia highway agency (Invias) director Juan Esteban Gil Chavarria, Antioquia Governor Anibal Gaviria Correa and Medellin Mayor Daniel Quintero jointly announced the upcoming financing deal for the 19-kilometers-long “phase two” highway (see blue line in map, above) -- details of which would be announced in the next two weeks.

Once completed, the "Mar 1" and "Mar 2" highways would drastically cut freight transit times between Medellin and the Atlantic, to around 4.5 hours.

“Phase one” of the 9.8-kilometers-long Toyo tunnel (see red line in map, above) -- recently renamed "Tunel Guillermo Gaviria Echeverri," honoring the father of former Antioquia Gov. Guillermo Gaviria Correa, murdered in 2002 by communist FARC terrorists following a peace march – is now due for opening in 2023, a year ahead of schedule, Gov. Anibal Gaviria revealed.

“The national government through Invias and ANI [the national infrastructure agency] has pledged to contribute the COP$1.4 trillion [US$416 million] necessary for the construction of 'phase two' of the Toyo Tunnel between Santa Fe de Antioquia and the eastern access to the Guillermo Gaviria Echeverri Tunnel,” Gaviria further explained.

It’s conceivable that future highway toll revenues from the under-construction “Mar 1” highway between Medellin and Santa Fe de Antioquia might be used to support the new financing package for "phase two," Invias director Gil added.

A video (in Spanish) of the joint press conference is available here:


Medellin-based electric power transmission giant ISA announced December 12 that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the binational “Interconexion Electrica Colombia-Panama” (ICP) joint venture inked a technical cooperation funding deal in the run-up for a planned 2024 launch of the first-ever power-transfer connection line between Colombia and Panama.

The proposed project “is crucial for consolidating the regional energy market,” according to ISA, which operates Colombia’s national power grid.

The 500-kilometers-long transmission line would connect the existing Cerromatoso substation in Cordoba, Colombia, to the “Panama II” substation (Panama Province). The line would employ high-voltage, direct current (HVDC) transmission technology, at a capacity of 2x200 megawatts and a DC voltage level of ± 300 kV, according to ISA.

For project design, technical analysis and environmental surveys, IDB is now putting-up US$500,000, while ICP is contributing another US$4.96 million -- on top of US$4 million earlier invested in project feasibility studies since 2006.

ICP’s main shareholders are ISA and ETESA, Panama’s state-owned power-grid operator.

“Interconexión Eléctrica Colombia-Panamá is fundamental for consolidating the regional energy market and for integrating the Andean Community with Central America, since it already has an organized market through the SIEPAC grid,” according to ISA.

(Note: SIEPAC is the Central American Electrical Interconnection System – “Sistema de Interconexión Eléctrica de los Países de América Central” – an in-development interconnection of the power grids of six Central American nations, covering 37 million consumers in Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala.)

“This [Panama-Colombia] interconnection will have access to new renewable sources, contributing to the optimal use of energy resources available, and enabling increased system reliability by providing more generation options to meet demand growth,” according to ISA.

“It will also support countries affected by [power outage] emergencies and reduce carbon emissions due to the substitution of fossil fuels,” ISA added.

Last year, the “Guna Yala Congress” -- a British-based tropical-forest conservation organization involved with Panamanian indigenous groups – “approved the execution of technical and environmental surveys within its territory and informed the creation of a commission to support its execution,” according to ISA.

“The proposal was presented under the approach of an environmentally and comprehensively developed sustainable corridor that includes Mortí-Mulatupu Pan-American Highway, Interconexión Eléctrica transmission line, and an electrification project for communities in the influence area within the framework of the initiative called Energía para Todos en Panama 2019-2013 (Energy for Everyone in Panama: 2019-2013), led by IDB, an entity that supports this project since 2006.

“Currently, environmental impact and field design studies are being executed, which are developed in a coordinated manner and by sector. Project operations based on outstanding authorizations and surveys to be carried out would start in 2024 as estimated date.

“The interconnection topic has been included in the bilateral agenda and has been subject in various agreements between both countries.

“These agreements have ratified the will to move towards the construction of a long-term future that prioritizes energy integration among Mexico, Central America, and Colombia, as well as towards the need for reinforcing efforts for its feasibility and financing, and the need for making policy adjustments to implement the regulatory harmonization scheme,” ISA concluded.

Colombia’s national highway agency (Invias) announced late December 14 that sufficient progress on clearing a November 13 landslide at kilometer 73 (San Luis) of the Medellin-Bogota Highway has now enabled 24 hours/day traffic flows in both directions.

To date, more than 102,000 cubic meters of dirt and rocks have been removed from the landslide-site, while 73 machines and 82 workers also have enabled construction of terraces, channels and filtration systems on the affected mountainside, which will help prevent future landslides.

“Invias will continue working to execute complementary works of channels, drains, conformation of terraces as well as with the evaluation of the physical conditions of the site in order to guarantee the safety of users in this important road corridor,” the agency added.

Colombia President Ivan Duque on December 20 celebrated a restricted-hours reopening of a 600-meters-long stretch of the “Pacifico 1” highway between Medellin and Bolombolo, which had been blocked for six months by a massive landslide near Amaga.

Until all repairs and mountainside reconstructions are finally completed in the area, the road will be opened only for restricted hours, from 6 am to 5 pm daily through January 7, according to Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura (ANI, the national infrastructure agency).

Then, starting January 8, the road will be open Monday through Saturday from 6 am to 9 am for morning traffic, and from 3 pm to 6 pm for afternoon traffic. On Sundays and holidays, the road will be open from 6 am to 5 pm -- until related highway and mountainside works are eventually completed.

More than 1 million cubic meters of earth and rocks had collapsed at the “Sinifina” section of the highway last May, forcing inconvenient, slower detours through Venecia to Bolombolo, which connects with “Pacifico 2” and “Pacifico 3” highways southwestward toward the Pacific port of Buenaventura.

On a parallel front, new funding has been allocated for the design of a new bridge at Bolombolo over the Cauca River -- parallel to the existing bridge – to “facilitate the transit of cargo vehicles,” according to ANI.  Also, the national highway institute (Invias) and the Institute for the Development of Antioquia (IDEA) inked a related deal to upgrade the existing Venicia-Bolombolo road to handle detoured traffic during Pacifico 1 reconstruction works.

A new monitoring and alarm system enables 24 hours/day online supervision of the mountainside alongside this section Pacifico 1, which enables early warnings and shutdowns in case of threats of another landslide, according to the agency.

Mitigation works in the upper part of the mountainside – including canals, filtration systems and trenches – are already 80% complete, according to ANI.

“Progress has been made at a good pace in construction of two of three terraces and containment areas as elements to mitigate material slides,” according to ANI.


Medellin-based multinational electric power producer EPM announced November 27 an alliance with U.S.-based, global renewable-power developer Invenergy for at least 400 megawatts of solar- and wind-power generation capacity in Colombia.

The alliance will “invest, develop, build, operate and maintain unconventional renewable energy projects in Colombia, specifically with solar and wind technology,” according to a joint announcement from the new partners.

Under the deal, Invenergy will obtain financing with local and international banks, negotiate capacity in the purchase of equipment, contract with the project builders and “use its ability to transform projects into operational assets quickly,” according to EPM.

Thereafter, “EPM will have the option to purchase the [renewable energy] projects built within the framework of the alliance and will market 100% of the electric energy and emission reduction credits of the solar and wind plants,” according to the company.

EPM pioneered wind-power generation in Colombia with its “Jepírachi” project in Colombia’s Guajira region since 2004. More recently, EPM entered solar generation and “intends to continue contributing to the development of these technologies in the country,” according to the company.

For its part, Invenergy has developed more than 24,000 megawatts of capacity through 146 wind- and solar-power projects in the United States, Latin America, Japan and Europe. Among its projects: 96 wind farms with 14,914 megawatts capacity; 30 solar-power farms totaling 3,351 megawatts capacity; and 13 energy-storage units with 260 megawatts capacity, according to Invenergy.

At a press conference announcing the deal, Colombia Energy Minister María Fernanda Suárez stated that “alliances such as the one signed by EPM and Invenergy not only demonstrate the potential of renewable energies in Colombia, but also represent new opportunities for investment and employment for the benefit of the country and regions.”

For his part, Invenergy general manager Michael Polsky added that “our alliance with EPM represents a milestone for Invenergy as we enter the Colombian market and expand our presence in Latin America.”

According to the Energy Ministry, over the last 15 months Colombia's power-capacity auctions for incorporating future sources of renewable energy into its electricity matrix will boost capacity from less than 50 megawatts (what the city of Ibagué needs) currently to more than 2,200 megawatts of capacity by the year 2022 -- equivalent to the total power demand of Medellín, Cali, Cartagena and Bucaramanga combined.

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U.S. native Roberto Peckham, who founded Medellin Herald in 2015, has been residing in metro Medellin since 2005 and has traveled regularly and extensively throughout Colombia since 1981.

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