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Infrastructure 47

Colombia President Ivan Duque announced August 13 that the crucial “Mar 1” and “Mar 2” highways -- including the Toyo Tunnel and Tunel de Occidente -- as well as the proposed “Puerto Antioquia” freight port on the Caribbean are his highest priorities for accelerated advance or completion before his term ends in 2022.

Speaking August 13 at a ceremony here marking the just-completed tunnel boring at Medellin’s second “Tunel de Occidente” (West Tunnel) linking Medellin westward to Santa Fe de Antioquia, Duque confirmed that his administration also aims to ensure completion of tunnel boring of Colombia’s longest highway tunnel – the 19.4-kilometers-long Toyo Tunnel in Antioquia -- which today is only one-sixth-of-the way completed.

Transport Secretary Ángela María Orozco had earlier confirmed that the Colombian government would arrange COP$1.4 trillion (US$370 million) in credits for the Toyo tunnel (also known as Tunel Guillermo Gaviria Echeverri) by end-September 2020.

The new, 4.6-kilometers-long, second Tunel de Occidente tube --  adding two more lanes adjacent to the existing tube -- has a projected cost of COP$420 billion (US$108 million) and is due for completion by end-2022, according to contractor Devimar.

Having the second tube completed will enable four lines of divided highway as part of the high-speed “Mar 1” project linking Medellin westward to current and future Atlantic ports. The existing highway tunnel is restricted to two-way traffic on single lanes and suffers much congestion.

“Mar 1” eventually will link to “Mar 2” (including the Toyo Tunnel) all the way to the Caribbean, slashing freight traffic times between Medellin and Atlantic ports to just four hours, rather than eight hours currently.

The "Mar 1” project (already 70% complete) and the connecting “Mar 2” highway projects are projected to be completed by 2023, assuming that Toyo Tunnel finance indeed is finalized promptly, as promised. 

The long-awaited development of the “Puerto Antioquia” ocean-freight port near Turbo, Antioquia, just got a US$110 million term-loan investment from New York-based Global Infrastructure Partners (GIP).

According to the GIP announcement – which project developer Andres Felipe Bustos of Medellin-based Puertos Inversiones y Obras (PioSAS) confirmed to Medellin Herald as factually accurate – “Puerto Antioquia” development is led by a consortium consisting of France-based CMA Terminal Holdings S.A.S, shipping line Eiffage S.A, a "top-tier construction company," and a "private consortium of banana producers and exporters," along with PioSAS.

“The GIP holding company investment -- together with senior debt provided by a group of multilateral banks and equity capital from the [project] sponsors -- will be utilized to fund construction of an approximately US$725 million port facilities project,” according to GIP.

“The project is underpinned by long-term volume commitments with the consortium and will be strategically located as Colombia’s closest port to the Atlantic Coast. It is geographically positioned to capture a large share of dry-containers traffic originated from important economic regions of Colombia, including Medellin, Bogota, the coffee axis and other hinterland regions,” GIP added..

“Puerto Antioquia is a landmark project for Colombia and is expected to change the dynamics of trade in the country given its strategic location,” according to Jennifer Powers, GIP partner and Chair of GIP Credit. “It is expected to capture immediate cargo and create a significant positive impact in the Uraba region [of Antioquia]. The port will provide significant socio-economic impact to the region, as evidenced by multilateral financing support from its senior lender, one of the most important banks in Latin America.”

CMA Terminal chief Laurent Martens added: “We are very happy with this continuing partnership with GIP. They have been a resourceful and proactive partner throughout development. We very much appreciate GIP’s unabated support in spite of current market conditions to close the financing of this ambitious project.”

Financing Follows 30-Year Concession Deal

Colombia Vice President Marta Lucia Ramírez announced last year (March 20, 2019) that the new port would link to the under-construction “Mar 1” and “Mar 2” highways connecting Medellin westward to new and existing freight ports on the Caribbean.

Project developers foresee the mobilization of up-to-6.6-million tons of cargo per year, Vice President Ramírez said. Once completed, Puerto Antioquia “will become the closest Colombian Caribbean terminal to Cundinamarca and the coffee region,” she added.

At the time, Colombia’s Transport Ministry had estimated that construction costs on the project would total around US$300 million, covering dock works with five ship-berthing positions, plus a double-lane carriageway viaduct for the transit of tractor-trailers between the berthing platform and land-side terminal facilities.

“The port terminal will be designed to serve container ships of up to 366 meters in length and 14,000 TEUs [standard 20-feet-long shipping containers],” according to the press bulletin accompanying Vice President Ramírez’s remarks.

“The port, which [would be] located in the sector known as Bahía Colombia, near the township of Nueva Colonia and on the banks of the León River, will be connected to the Autopista Mar 1 and Autopista Mar 2 highway projects, and will specialize in general cargo, vehicles and containerized products such as cereals, plantains and bananas, among others,” according to the bulletin.

Civil works for the project would be carried out by a consortium made up of Eiffage Infraestructuras of France and Termotécnica Coindustrial of Colombia, according to that bulletin.

Colombia’s national infrastructure agency (Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura, ANI) announced June 17 that the crucial “Pacifico 1” highway connecting Medellin’s southern suburbs to the Cauca River town of Bolombolo is now open 24 hours/day.

A 300-meters-long section of the existing two-lane highway-- as well as an under-construction section of what eventually will become a four-lane divided highway -- were wiped-out by a huge landslide at Sinifaná in May 2019.

The Medellin-based “Covipacífico” construction consortium that’s building “Pacifico 1” partially restored one of the damaged sections -- enabling a limited reopening of the Sinifaná section -- in December 2019.

Since then, continuing advances in restoration work now enable 24 hours/day operations in both directions on that section of the old two-lane highway, according to ANI.

However, routine, occasional closings for continuing construction work -- as well precautionary closings triggered by landslide-threatening deluges -- can be expected, ANI cautioned.

To date, restoration and landslide-prevention works include “installation of trenches, construction of drains, adaptation of terraces and the unblocking of the Sinifaná [river] gorge,” according to ANI.

Medellin-based electric power giant EPM on June 11 unveiled a COP$4 trillion (US$1.06 billion) capital investment program for its power distribution subsidiaries in six Colombian departments (states).

The investments “seek to contribute to the improvement of service quality, minimizing the number of interruptions and their duration,” according to EPM.

“For this, infrastructure projects are being carried out with the aim of extending networks to expand coverage, modernize and expand substations to improve reliability, and acquisition of new technologies that allow optimizing the system, timely delivery of information and greater automation,” according to the company.

The investments will cover all its domestic power-distribution subsidiaries in Antioquia, Norte de Santander, Santander, Quindio, Caldas and Risaralda departments, including: CENS (Centrales Eléctricas del Norte de Santander), ESSA (Electrificadora de Santander), CHEC (Central Hidroeléctrica de Caldas), EDEQ (Empresa de Energía del Quindío) and EPM (Empresas Publicas de Medellin).

EPM group already invested COP$742 billion (US$197 million) in Colombia power infrastructure in 2019, the company noted. For 2020, projected investments total COP$1.3 trillion (US$355 million), while for the 2020-2024 term, investments will total COP$4 trillion (US$1.06 billion).

Beyond just infrastructure, investment areas also include “research and innovation projects aimed at the incorporation and adoption of new information technologies; measurement and intelligent networks; [and] multipurpose LED lighting,” according to the company.

Here are the investment totals by subsidiary:

CENS: This subsidiary has already invested COP$481 billion (US$127 million) for efficiency and reliability projects over the past four years – an all-time record, according to EPM.

As a result, “the ‘SAIDI’ indicator (which measures duration of service failures) has decreased by 35% between 2016 and 2019, and the SAIFI indicator (which measures the frequency of failures) has decreased by 16%, [both] achieving better-than-national long-term targets,” according to EPM.

Besides extending power service into more rural areas and low-income neighborhoods, CENS now offers payment plans “tailored to the needs of users and their ability to pay, such as ‘Rechargeable Energy’ and ‘Pay to Your Needs,’” according to EPM.

ESSA: This subsidiary launched a COP$770 billion (US$204 million) investment plan in 2016 “in order to increase coverage and improve the quality of energy service for its customers and users in Santander,” according to EPM.

“These resources have been key to illuminating the lives of 23,424 rural families who did not have the energy service in their homes,” according to EPM.

“Thus, a coverage of the energy service in the rural area of 96.4% and a total urban-rural coverage of 98.85% were achieved, making Santander one of the departments in Colombia with the greatest coverage of electric-energy service and consequently greater opportunities for development and well-being.

“Through expansion and improvement projects of networks and electrical substations, it was possible to improve by 40% the time that customers go without energy service (SAIDI indicator) and to reduce by 30% the number of interruptions in the energy service of users (SAIFI indicator),” the company added.

EDEQ: Since 2010, EDEQ has invested approximately COP$100 billion (US$26.5 million) in the Quindío electricity system, boosting service quality. “The frequency indicator (SAIFI) has improved by 65%; while the availability indicator (SAIDI) imrpvoed by 20%,” according to EPM.

“For the next five years, EDEQ will invest more than COP$90 billion [US$24 million] in projects including the [power dispatch] control center, expansion and replacement of networks and substations, and management of energy losses, all to achieve greater efficiencies and better quality,” according to EPM.

CHEC: So far in 2020, power-supply interruption frequencies and durations have been reduced substantially, “which shows the results of investments aimed at improving the quality of the energy service,” according to EPM.

“Through electrification plans and the expansion of infrastructure, coverage of 99.91% was achieved in the departments of Caldas and Risaralda,” the company added.

“During 2018 and 2019, CHEC infrastructure planning studies were carried out for the municipalities of Dosquebradas and Dorada, as well as the study of the expansion of the Regional Transmission System. As a result, 25 projects are being formulated today, which would come into operation in the next six years.”

For 2020, CHEC plans to invest COP$45 billion (US$12 million) and then another COP$244 billion (US$65 million) in the 2021-2024 period, according to the company.

EPM: The principal subsidiary of Grupo EPM “has as its fundamental purpose the provision of electric power service with universal coverage and the best possible quality” in Medellin and throughout Antioquia. Following that promise, at the end of 2019 EPM’s service coverage in urban areas was 100% and in rural areas 97.26%.

EPM offers pioneering payment solutions including “Prepaid Energy,” “Housing Enablement” and the “Pay for Your Needs” program, “all of which make it possible to access service and stay permanently connected” even for relatively low-income households.

For the period 2020-2024, EPM’s total investments in Medellin and Antioquia will be approximately COP$1.7 trillion [US$450 million], featuring “expansion projects and replacement of electrical infrastructure that will make it possible to connect more customers and modernize the infrastructure; our ‘safety project’ that will guarantee the continuity of service under safe conditions for both workers and contractors and for the community; the ‘quality project’ that aims to improve the quality of electricity service in all territories (SAIDI-SAIFI indicators), and the change of public lighting to more-efficient LED technology,” according to the company.

EPM Social/Environmental Projects Director Ana Milena Joya Camacho revealed in a May 26 meeting with Antioquia departmental officials that 192 workers at the “Hidroituango” hydroelectric project have tested positive for Coronavirus.

Because of this outbreak – first detected among 13 workers on May 12 -- EPM not only has removed, isolated and ensured treatment of all those infected, but also is now testing 100% of all employees at the construction site, Joya said.

In addition, EPM is imposing even stricter biosafety protocols on all workers, beyond the protocols first adopted in March 2020, she said. What’s more, no outsiders will be allowed inside the project site unless cleared of Covid-19 symptoms and tested.

Following the initial outbreak in early May, EPM arranged with Universidad de Antioquia to test all workers. An initial test campaign covering 418 workers on May 16 confirmed seven more Covid-19 cases, according to EPM.

As a result, EPM reported that as of May 16, a total 10 of workers had shown mild symptoms.  “But in case their health requires it, the CCCI Consortium [the construction companies building Hidroituango] together with EPM and health authorities are prepared for their timely and safe posting to the hospital entity indicated by the EPS where the workers are affiliated,” according to the company.

“Through the agreement with the University of Antioquia, tests will continue to be carried out on all of the contractor’s workers to properly guide their efforts in mitigating the pandemic and protecting the health of their community, the families of the workers and the populations of the municipalities of the area of influence,” according to EPM.

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.


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Medellin Herald is a locally produced, English-language news and advisory service uniquely focused upon a more-mature audience of visitors, investors, conference and trade-show attendees, property buyers, expats, retirees, volunteers and nature lovers.

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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