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Colombia’s highways, among the slowest in the world due to corruption and poor quality construction

While in Colombia a trip of 300 kilometers by road takes about seven hours, in Spain that same journey would take less than half. The latest measurement from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows where the fastest and slowest roads in the world are. The latter are in the poorest countries, such as Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador. The fastest are, among others, in the United States, Canada, Australia and France.

The IMF uses Google Maps to specify the average time between large cities: the countries with the fastest roads can go at a speed between 91 and 110 kilometers per hour; the slowest range between 30 and 60. The study shows that the quality of roads is associated with travel times. Although he clarifies that his measurement does not include factors such as road safety, the different forms of transport such as rail or congestion during peak hours, slow roads do represent an obstacle to the economic development of countries.

Aerial view of cars on the Ituango dam road in Antioquia (Colombia) in June 2019.Anadolu Agency (Getty Images)

Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, does not have a high-speed train and its main lines frequently collapse. The situation for the rest of the country is similar. There are no large highways like in developed countries and the average speed on highways is 57 kilometers. In 2019, the Inter-American Development Bank warned that the country needed 45,000 more kilometers of roads to increase its productivity. According to 2019 data, it had 206,708 kilometers.

Germán Pardo, president of the Colombian Society of Engineers —an independent and advisory body of the national government— points out that the main problems in Colombia are lack of planning and corruption. “As long as the decisions are political, it will be very difficult to move forward, because projects are being planned for three or four years to be able to inaugurate them, and it turns out that the infrastructure mega-projects have nothing to do with political deadlines; They must be a state plan, not one of the governments in power, ”he explains to EL PAÍS.

Pardo says that Colombia’s road development plan has at least ten more years left and that the slow pace of road infrastructure influences the country’s fiscal deficit. Among the recommendations that he has given to the government as a union are greater control over designs, better planning and transparency in contracting processes.

Corruption in the contracting of roads in Colombia is one of the main factors that determine the inefficiency and insufficiency of the country’s highways. One of the most notorious cases is that of Odebrecht, in which the national treasury lost millions of dollars in the failed construction of the Ruta del Sol project, a corridor that would link the center of the country with the north coast. The lack of planning in construction works causes road problems in the country, as happened in 2018, with the collapse of the Chirajara bridge, on the road that goes from Bogotá to the eastern plains. Before being inaugurated it collapsed and has not yet been replaced. The tragedy left nine dead.

One of the unions most affected by the state of the roads is that of heavy load transport. Juan Carlos Bobadilla, secretary of the Colombian Association of Truckers, warns that, due to the delays in each trip, there is greater fuel consumption and drivers must work more hours, running the risk of accidents, as often happens. “Colombia has a great backwardness in the main, secondary and tertiary roads. Landslides occur, which generates delays in the routes. Potholes in the roads cause accidents, tires blow out,” he says. In addition, another concern is the presence of armed groups that stop vehicles to rob drivers.

In general, Colombian highways do not go around towns and cities, which forces you to cross them and makes traffic more painful. Although transit is slower, tolls are among the most expensive in South America. In 2021, the Ministry of Transport collected 1,043.5 million dollars in the more than 160 tolls in the country.

The IMF study states that “high-speed highways that can transport goods to customers in distant markets increase productivity, reduce poverty and contribute significantly to sustainable and inclusive economic development.” The lack of roads in rural areas in Colombia, for example, complicates the exit of many of the crops that farmers grow.

Germán Pardo believes that another of the causes that influences the state of the roads is the lack of maintenance and conservation. “It is much cheaper to maintain them than later to have to repair them,” he points out. The professor at the School of Administration of the Universidad del Rosario, Óscar Armando Mejía, thinks the same. “We should invest, not only in development, but in preventive maintenance: not only corrective,” he says.

Mejía believes that the lack of planning and corruption are not the only causes of the bad roads in Colombia: the same geographic biodiversity and climate change make traveling in Colombia complex. The many mountain ranges make infrastructure difficult, he says. Another point that he adds is the lack of other types of transportation, such as river and rail. “Colombia’s worst mistake was losing its railways. We are one of the few countries that does not have and let us lose the railway. It’s not just about building roads, but developing alternative means of transportation”, he specifies.

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Source: EL PAIS

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