September 24, 2023
General News

Deadly Medellin-Bogota Highway Landslide Casts Pall on Progress

A huge landslide October 16 from a rock mine at kilometer 13 of the Medellin-Bogota highway in the municipality of Copacabana has claimed at least 16 lives with uncertainty remaining about several other persons that had been reported missing.

Some 60,000 tonnes of rocks, dirt and mud slid down from the rock mine, covering all four lanes of the Medellin-Bogota highway, according to the Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura (ANI), which oversees the construction of the highway, operated under concession to Devimed.

The highway is expected to be closed for about five days as rescue workers search for bodies and remove the landslide debris. A partial reopening of two lanes October 29 has enabled 12 hours/day of traffic flow.

The deadly tragedy cast a pall on recent progress in building new, four-lane highways linking Medellin and Antioquia to key Atlantic and Pacific ports and cities.

Ironically, just as the landslide occurred, Colombia Vice President German Vargas Lleras was inaugurating a new, 10-kilometers-long expansion of four-lane divided highway between the Medellin suburbs of Marinilla and Santuario on the Medellin-Bogota highway.

Vargas Lleras quickly scrambled to the site of the tragedy to help oversee rescue efforts.

The Marinilla-Santuario expansion project cost COP$175 billion (US$59 million) and had been delayed for years because of financing snags as well as resistance from property owners along the route. Colombia historically has suffered from a lack of an effective eminent-domain law that can enable faster, more economical completion of crucial highway routes linking cities and ports.

Eventually, the Medellin-Bogota highway would become a four-lane, divided highway all the way from Medellin to the Magdalena River, then connecting to another four-lane, divided highway all the way to Bogota, Vargas Lleras added.

‘Mar 1’ Financial Close

On a related front, ANI announced October 26 that it has approved the recent US$450 million financial close of the “Mar 1” divided highway project initially linking Medellin to Santa Fe de Antioquia, then eventually all the way to new Atlantic ports in Uraba, Antioquia, via the “Mar 2” and Toyo Tunnel projects.

Japan-based Sumitomo Mitsui arranged the “Mar 1” financing, ANI noted.

The “Mar 1” project has a total length of 176 kilometers, all in Antioquia. The main works consist of improvements to the existing highway as well as construction of a parallel highway between Medellin’s existing westward-bound tunnel (Tunel de Occidente) and Santa Fe de Antioquia, as well as improvements to 71 kilometers of existing highway between Bolombolo and Santa Fe de Antioquia.

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