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UN Periódico Digital
    4G highways, more engineering, control and transparency

Modernizing the road infrastructure of Colombia is an undeniable need; however, it cannot be carried out at any cost and much less to the detriment of a profession as important an engineering. Awarding contracting only for its economy above technical aspects is ultimately killing engineering in the country.

The previous is due to Law 1508 which established the legal regime of public-private partnerships and in one article speaks about project structuring by private agents and establishes a prefeasibility stage, which includes minimum designs, building, operation and maintenance, among others, and the another feasibility stage which includes a detailed financial model, including legal aspects of the project.

This articles poses ethical issues when the designer is the same builder and the work inspection are the same legal entity an the latter is deficient for lack of clarity or because it’s being paid for by the designer or constructor.

Engineering topics should be included in the feasibility stages, using definitive designs to make them optimal and know the total cost of a project and guarantee that design is optimal technically and economically. Considering these points, UN Periódico published and articles named “Mayor vigilancia del Estado en autopistas 4g” (Greater supervision over the government in 4G roadways).

Among others the article suggests contracting independent an capable work inspectors, which control the risk and investment  and strengthen citizen audits.

Currently there huge issues persist, such as corruption, as evidenced by the Odebrecht kickbacks, dissatisfied communities due to unwanted tollbooths or collapsing of bridges (the Chirajara Bridge) due to bad design and quality, are just a few examples.

Cesar – Guajira concession

With a cost of Col $1.65 billion, this private initiative project had to be terminated in 2017 when the contract was for the end of 2049 due to legal issues and legal demands from neighboring communities which deny paying for a toll placed on the highway.

The contract was for rehabilitating and maintaining 9 stretches of roads for a total of  340,6 km (211,6 miles) and preserving other 14,2 km (8,8 miles) of which they only built 3,4 km (2,1 miles).

The Ministry of Transportation recognizes a lack of control of previous community consultation activities, not detecting the denial of the communities to have a toll both in their vicinity.

Transversal de las Américas

In order to search for the financial viability of the project, they determined they need to install 2 toll booths. Being a Private-public partnership many of the responsibilities were left to the concessionaire. The toll booth began its activities in January of this year and the community protested, so they temporarily suspended the toll booth; although the ANI still says the life of the project depends of the fund gathered by the toll booths (3 in total)

IP-Chirajara-Fundadores

The Chirajara Bridge was supposed to be 446 m (1,463 ft.) long and was one of 47 bridges part of the ip-Chirajara-Fundadores project connecting the provinces of Cundinamarca and Meta. This contract has an investment of Col$ 5,1 billion for a road of 54 km (33.5 miles).

The collapse of the bridge, where nine people died is a bad precedent in the story of Colombian engineering , as the economic impact on the concessionaire is practically null.

The cost of the accident will be covered by the insurance companies and only represent 0.59% of the total cost of the project. Furthermore, how Law 1508 was conceived, the great amounts of money for the operation stages give way to engineering mistakes which are covered by simple financial adjustments de 2012, which can only be covered by adding more toll booth and making the toll more expensive.

The Medellín-Cartagena road has 10 toll booths, which means that in scarcely 630 km (391.4 miles) a normal person in a small car has to pay close to Col $ 86,000 (USD $30.3)  but a large 6-axel truck has to pay close to Col $ 256.000 (US $90.38) which will be transferred to the cost of the shipment.

From the technical point of view, the reason for the collapse of the Chirajara Bridge will be established by a group of structural experts , although the lack of a work inspection during the design stages is obvious.

Questioned toll booths

The great number of toll booths and their high cost is turning into a cause for rejection from communities, making it difficult for drivers to use the road frequently, diminishing the income to the concession which will lead for them requesting longer terms.

The Medellín-Cartagena road has 10 toll booths, which means that in scarcely 630 km (391.4 miles) a normal person in a small car has to pay close to Col $ 86,000 (USD $30.3)  but a large 6-axle truck has to pay close to Col $ 256.000 (US $90.38) which will be transferred to the cost of the shipment.

An important aspect 4G projects need to consider is protecting their workers and wildlife according to road safety regulations. Roads are a mortal trap for many wild species, some in danger of extinction. Precisely a research project carried out by the  Universidad de los Llanos says the during the last four months on the Villavicencio- Barranca de Upía road, 261 animals were run over, including mammals such as anteaters and capybaras.

It is important to not lose sight of the Col $50 billion the country is investing in modernizing the roadways. Therefore this is a call to have greater control over all aspects of an infrastructure project and act with transparency.

Consejo Editorial