Medellin’s Long-Awaited ‘Tunel del Oriente’ Finally Opens; Connects to JMC Airport
After decades of delays, a new, COP$1.1 trillion (US$317 million), 24-kilometers-long highway — including Colombia’s longest tunnel – on August 15 opened to link Medellin directly to the Jose Maria Cordoba (JMC) international airport at Rionegro.
According to Concesion Tunel Aburra-Oriente (CTAO, the project consortium involving 74 companies), the new highway — including two long tunnels, one short tunnel and nine viaducts — would cut travel time from Medellin to JMC to 18 minutes, compared to 45 minutes currently.
The route also will cut other personal transit times to and from Medellin and the rapidly growing “oriente” (east of Medellin) region. Drawn to its pleasurably cooler climate, cleaner air and more wide-open spaces, Medellin residents are increasingly moving east into thousands of new “oriente” homes and businesses every year, toward what locals dub “Medellin’s second floor.”
“The Aburrá-Oriente Road Connection is a mega-project that connects the Aburrá Valley Metropolitan Area with the San Nicolás Valley — two regions of great importance for our [Antioquia] department, including large-scale industrial, tourist, environmental and mobility dynamics,” according to CTAO.
“Starting in Medellín, in the Baltimore sector of the Las Palmas highway, a new road interchange allows access to the first tunnel, with a length of 774 meters.
“After this tunnel, there is an open-sky track in the east-central area of the Aburrá Valley, then comes a second tunnel of 8.2 kilometers in length.”
A parallel tunnel alongside the new tunnel has already been excavated in anticipation of converting the two-lane highway into four lanes — divided for faster travel in both directions.
While some politicians and local residents historically had raised concerns that the tunnel might drain vital groundwater from local farms near the route, the CTAO consortium responded by employing the most advanced European tunnel-construction technologies, according to CTAO.
Beyond employing a special cement to prevent water escape into the tunnels, the consortium also installed 77 groundwater monitoring systems, according to CTAO.