C.J. Schexnayder
Cracks in the roads hampered the delivery of assistance into the damage zone from Lima.

LIMA, Peru – With the award of the final two contracts for the $1.3–billion Interoceanic Highway that will create a paved connection between Peru's Pacific coast and the Altlantic, the necessity for improvements for the country's North–South coastal corridor – the Pan–American Highway – has become even more critical.

But when the 8.0 magnitude earthquake struck the southern coast of Peru earlier this month, it threw an ongoing upgrade effort into disarray.

The Aug. 15 earthquake caused severe cracking along the highway and a collapse of half the roadway in one point near the coastal town of Chincha. The bridge at the town of Pisco was severely damaged as well.

Work crews scrambled to repair the damage so aid could be brought from the capital of Lima to the disaster zone. Backups of vehicles stretched for miles as the work continued the week following the temblor.

Covi Peru, the concessionaire handling the $228–million upgrade to the 300 kilometer section of the Pan–American Highway between Lima and Ica where the earthquake struck, has asked that the contract be reviewed due to the damage from the disaster.

The work – slated for completion by 2009 – is the first phase of a more than 20–year plan to revitalize the roadway. Covi Peru was awarded the contract in September of 2005.

Peruvian officials have estimated the repairs to the highway will cost at least $5 million, but a detailed study of the damage has not been completed. New roadways to circumvent the severely damaged sections could cost between $29 million and $61 million.

The request has been through post–quake meetings with government officials but has not been formally presented to the agencies in charge of the work.

The department of Ica sent more than $1.28 billion in goods – mostly agriculture products and textiles – abroad in 2006. While some of this departed through local ports, the majority was sent overseas from the nation's primary port of Callao north of Lima.

The country's export association ADEX urged the government to move quickly to fix the highway so the disruptions of exports would be minimized and not affect the region's economic bottom line.

The upgrade is critical with the awarding of the final two sections of the Interoceanic Highway project this week. When completed in 2009, the $1.3 billion project will create a paved roadway between the Atlantic Ocean and Peru's southern Pacific ports. The Pan–American Highway connects these regions to Peru's capital and industrial center of Lima.

The earthquake also caused a suspension of efforts on the Interoceanic Highway project when Conirsa, the consortium headed by Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht, sent machines from the job to the coast to help with recovery efforts and the push to re–open the Pan–American Highway. In all, Conirsa sent more than three dozen pieces of equipment to help in the effort including bulldozers, dump trucks and lighting towers.