Latin America’s Longest Tunnel Under Fire in Colombia

By Sinikka Tarvainen (dpa)

President Ivan Duque during the inauguration of the tunnel last Friday, September 4. Photo: EFE

HAVANA TIMES – A road tunnel billed as the greatest achievement of Colombian road engineering came under scathing criticism on Sunday for its cost, the duration of its construction and for being one-way.

President Ivan Duque on Friday inaugurated the 8.5-kilometre La Linea tunnel. Described as the longest in Latin America, it passes through the Andes’ central mountain range.

The tunnel linking Cajamarca with Calarca saves drivers 21 kilometers along a winding road up to 3,600 meters high.

It aims to reduce the time and cost of moving goods from the port of Buenaventura to the country’s center.

The tunnel was “badly planned, badly designed, badly tendered, with bad contracts and … badly executed,” wrote German Vargas Lleras. Lleras was Colombia’s vice president from 2014 to 2017.

It took over 11 years to build and the cost shot up

The construction time of 11 years was four years longer than planned, critics pointed out.

The government gave the cost as about 1 trillion pesos (270 million dollars) – twice the original budget. But Vargas Lleras said the real cost was five times the original budget.

It also surprised many Colombians to find out that the tunnel is one-way, allowing only for travel from the south-west to the center of the country.

Those travelling the other way must still take the old mountain road, though traffic there will be much easier now.

Transport Minister Angela Maria Orozco said it had not been possible to build two tunnels in the mountain at the same time.

Initial reports said the tunnel was getting another section leading in the opposite direction, allowing lorries to transport export goods to Buenaventura. But Orozco only said the government would consider possible offers from private companies to build it.

“There is little to celebrate,” Vargas Lleras concluded in a column in the daily El Tiempo on Sunday.

Senator Gustavo Bolivar tweeted that the project had been “wrapped in corruption and cost overruns,” and some other politicians and media outlets also published critical comments.

The tunnel will form part of a transport infrastructure including more than 20 other tunnels and about 30 viaducts.