Colombia has awarded the first two contracts for the $2.6-billion, 1,000-kilometer Ruta del Sol highway project. The largest such road effort ever undertaken in the South American country, the project will connect the capitol city Bogota and the Caribbean coast.

Map: Sue Pearsall
The 1,000-km tollroad will link Bogota to the Atlantic Coast.

In January, Colombia’s National Dept. of Planning and National Institute of Concessions (INCO) awarded the seven-year, $660-million contract to Helios Road Consortium, led by Colombian construction firm Grupo Solarte, to construct and operate the toll road. The group also includes Colombian construction firm Conconcreto and Argentinean company IECSA.

The work includes the construction of 78.3 km of new roadway from the town of Vileta, about 50 kilometers north of the capitol, to Puerto Salagar. The route requires construction of three tunnels, one of which will be 3.5 km long.

The second contract, to upgrade the 528-km section between El Koran and San Roque, was awarded to the Concessionária Rota do Sol, led by Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht in association with Colombian companies Corficolombiana and Grupo Solarte.

Work is set to begin in 2011 and should be completed within five years. The concession period is 15 years, and tolls collected over that span are expected to cover 40% of the project’s cost.

The job will require the upgrade of existing road surface as well as the construction of additional lanes for the expanded roadway. Approximately 200 bridges must be built as well, said Luiz Bueno, CEO of Odebrecht Colombia.

The final 465-km section—expected to cost $750 million—is slated to be awarded by summer, officials said. The tender submitted for the work by the sole bidder, Concesión RDS, was rejected by the INCO.

Ruta del Sol is part of a larger effort to bolster Colombia’s infrastructure, in particular, the access to the country’s capitol and primary ports. When completed, the lane tollroad will greatly improve access between Bogota and the Caribbean coast, particularly the port of Santa Marta.

Approximately 70% of Colombia’s cargo is transported by truck, but the country has lagged significantly in terms of road development. As recently as 2005, just 15% of the nation’s 165,000 km of roadways were paved. More critically, the total amount of multiple-lane paved highway was less than 400 km.

The Rutal del Sol project follows on the heels of the ambitious Plan 2500 effort launched in 2006 to address the problem. More than $24.5 million has been invested in the initiative, which is designed to pave 2,500 km of Colombia’s roadways.