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San Juan: Inter-American Development Bank will ensure the construction of the Agua Negra Tunnel

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Governor Sergio Uñac met with the President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Luis Alberto Moreno, who ratified the entity’s commitment to the Agua Negra tunnel linking the IV Region of Coquimbo (Chile) with the Province of San Juan (Argentina). 

The governor of San Juan, Sergio Uñac, accompanied by the Minister of Finance and Finance of the province, Roberto Gattoni, presented to the President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), Luis Alberto Moreno, a series of financial tools and its local accounts of which San Juan provides-due to its financial surplus status and the fiscal balance necessary to achieve and guarantee the normal course of the bidding process and subsequent construction of the Agua Negra tunnel within the expected time limits.

In this context, IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno said that “the Agua Negra tunnel is a priority for the institution it represents and a vital project for regional integration” and was optimistic and committed once again with this important Binational project.

IUñac previously put these tools at the disposal of Presidents Mauricio Macri and Sebastian Piñera at the reception luncheon to be held to the first Chilean president in Argentina last April;

The Minister of Transport, Guillermo Dietrich; and the Minister of Public works of the neighboring country, Juan Andrés Fontaine Talavera, also meet at the 7th meeting of Chilean intendants and Argentine governors of the common border that took place in Santiago back in mid-August.

Visionaries imagined the tunnel more than 80 years ago, as a way to strengthen the integration between Argentina and Chile. Today it is considered a regional need to boost trade flows between the two oceans.

Work on a binational tunnel, a giant engineering project in the Andes, is now about to begin. The tunnel will be built at more than 4,000 m above sea level, along with the longest border in Latin America and one of the longest in the world. Argentina and Chile share more than 5,000 km of the border in the majestic Andes mountain ranges, which has hindered but never impeded transit of people and merchandise.

In colonial times, products were transported by mule from one side of the Andes to the other.
By the end of this year or the beginning of next year, the allocation of the contract for the construction of the Agua Negra Pass will be announced.

The aim is to cut transit time and freight costs.  The tunnel will take about 10 years to build, and is presented as the largest roadworks project in Latin America.

“The tunnel will be key to easier traffic to and from the Pacific Ocean, which will give us access to the Asian market,”

Argentina and Chile have 26 border crossings, but most lack adequate infrastructure for truck traffic and are closed for long stretches of the year because of weather conditions, as is the case of Agua Negra.

Bumpy road

The Agua Negra tunnel project has had advances and setbacks. Momentum seemed to surge in August 2009, during a summit of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), founded in 2004 as a regional forum for coordinating actions towards integrated development among the 12 countries of the region, which are home to a combined total of more than 400 million people.

The binational tunnel will be a key part of the Porto Alegre-Coquimbo Central Bi-oceanic Corridor, between the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and the Chilean port of Coquimbo, along with more than 2,700 km of roads that are mainly paved already.

The Corridor crosses different provinces of central Argentina and can also be used by companies from other countries of the Atlantic Ocean basin keen on access to the Pacific Ocean.

“There were always communication routes in the transverse valleys of the Andes mountain range. In the 19th century, cattle began to be brought in from San Juan and provinces of northern Argentina to Chile. And in 1932 or 1933, the government of Coquimbo asked an engineer to study the possibility of building a tunnel”.

“Although it has a long history, it was not until the 1960s that it was opened as an international pass for vehicles,” added Iribarren, author of the book “Agua Negra; History of a Road” and head of the history museum of La Serena, the capital of Coquimbo, located on the Pacific coast about 470 km north of Santiago.

The pass was closed in 1978, when the dictators of Argentina, Jorge Videla (1976-1981), and Chile, Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), brought to a point of extreme tension a border conflict at the southern tip of the continent and were about to lead the two countries to war.

Although it was reopened in the 1990s, after the two countries had returned to democracy, it is not suitable for trucks and is closed much of the year, because traffic is blocked due to snow.

Financial solution

The funding problem was solved in April 2016, when the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) announced to the two governments that it would finance the project.

In October 2017, the regional credit agency approved an initial disbursement of 130 million dollars to Chile and 150 million to Argentina, within a credit line expandable to 1.5 billion dollars as the work progresses.

“The objective is to reduce, through the construction of this infrastructure, the transaction costs at the borders, to increase the competitiveness of the countries involved and promote the economic development of the region,” said José Luis Lupo, manager of the IDB’s department of Southern Cone countries.

According to Ebitan, the tunnel will shorten the border crossing by 40 km and three hours. It will also make it possible to keep the pass open year-round.

The road climbs today to 4,780 m, but the tunnel will begin at 4,085 m above sea level on the Argentine side and will descend to 3,620 m on the Chilean side.

There will be two completely separate passages, for the sake of safety, one running in each direction, with two 7.5-m wide lanes each. Of the 13.9 km tunnel, 72 percent will be in Argentina.

Source: Ambito plus Public Information

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Geoffrey McRae

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