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Gómez Pinzón & Asociados Bogotá

Despite important budgetary cuts due to the country's difficult fiscal situation, Colombia's Instituto Nacional de Vías (Invías) — the administrative agency in charge of managing and developing the national road network — has embarked on the technical, financial and legal organization of five new toll road concessions. Bidding for the projects is scheduled for next year.

Colombia's experience in modern toll road concessions is fairly recent, dating back to 1992 when the Gaviria Administration undertook the first generation of projects as a complement to the ambitious Plan Vial de la Apertura road development plan. Although a step ahead of traditional government-funded projects, these concessions have generated steep costs for Invías. Traffic and engineering studies provided by the agency at the opening of bids for these projects were below feasibility specifications; hence, to minimize the corresponding risks, Invías guaranteed payment of compensation if toll revenues fell short of a minimum established in the bid specifications and in the event of certain construction cost overruns. In most cases, the guarantees have been triggered and the amounts to be paid thereunder have grown exponentially due to the fact that disbursement of moneys has been subject to ordinary budgetary procedures.

Proclaimed by the Samper Administration as a restatement of the national toll road concession policy, second generation projects sought to profit from the negative experiences of the first group of concessions, especially in risk allocation issues. This basically entailed the preparation of more detailed and technically refined pre-bid traffic, engineering and land appraisal studies, the obtainment by Invías — prior to the opening of bids — of the main environmental permits, and the drafting of concession agreements that reflected in all respects the crucial aspects of the corresponding project. In addition, greater stress was placed on the bankability of the concessions.

Although short-lived (only two projects were awarded following these guidelines), second generation concessions did improve upon first generation projects. However, in review of certain problematic elements, the Pastrana administration proclaimed a third generation of toll road projects.

Third generation concessions are based on the traffic corridors which unite the country's main consumption and production centres, and the latter with the seaports located in the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts. Under this new conception, Invías will advocate and organize projects that procure traffic continuity, uniform toll and operation strategies, and uniform service levels. The third generation priority roster consists of five projects which will comprise 671 km of new constructions, 1900 km of refurbishment, and 2600 km of maintenance work. The projects are the following:

The Briceño - Tunja - Sogamoso highway, located between the Cundinamarca and Boyacá Departments.

The Zipaquirá - Santa Marta road, a 900 plus km. project that would gain the country's central region prompt access to the Santa Marta seaport.

The Bogotá - Buenaventura project, probably the most important, expensive and ambitious of all third generation concessions, conceived to develop exports through the country's major seaport, located in the Valle del Cauca Department. This project includes the construction of a tunnel between the towns of Cajamarca and Calarcá, through Colombia's central mountain chain.

The Rumichaca - Popayán project, planned to facilitate trade between Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.

The Caribbean Road Network, a project that covers four of the departments located in the country's Atlantic coast, all with an important export potential.

Notwithstanding the current fiscal deficit and an economy awash in recession, the development of the national road system through toll concessions continues. Third generation projects are evidence of this policy, as well as a reflection of the experience gained with first and second generation projects.

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