Peter Kenyon, TunnelTalk
- Work has been suspended on an 8.1km twin-tube road tunnel in Colombia to allow a new Environmental Impact Assessment to be completed.
8.1km Oriente road tunnel will be South America's second longest
- The move comes three months after construction of the Oriente (East) Tunnel in Medellin began, following a special ceremony attended by Antioquia's Regional Governor.
- Colombia's Environment Ministry (Minambiente) acted following claims that a change made in 2010 to the tunnel's original 2002 alignment could damage the Nare River Protected Forest Reserve and threaten future water supplies to Medellin and surrounding areas.
- The country's Environment Minister Frank Pearl said in a statement issued by Minambiente:
- "After several weeks of analysis we couldn't certify the existence of information or an EIA that will let us know what the real impact of the Oriente tunnel will be. As a precaution we have decided to suspend the works."
- The Colombian Government has now commissioned a new EIA, the result of which is expected within 90 days.
- The Regional Government of Antioquia said in a separate statement dated January 13: "There have been experiences with similar projects in the past that, once construction has started, have caused unexpected environmental damage."
Antioquia's Regional Governor at the wheel to start construction
- The Infrastructure Secretary of Antioquia, Mauricio Valencia, added in another statement on January 19: "At this time we cannot say whether the tunnel will go ahead or not but what we do know is that there is a contract we must honour. If the ministry at the end of 90 days redefine, cancel or modify the status of the environmental licence we must find a way forward that will work."
- The US$500 million Oriente Tunnel (also known as the Santa Elena tunnel) project in Medellin finally started in October last year (2011), after 40 years in the planning. It is the second phase of a four phase project.
- At the ground breaking ceremony on October 19, 2011, the Regional Governor was reported by local media as saying there was no legal reason why the project could not move to the construction stage. But on January 12 the Colombian Government ordered the project's concession holder, Concesion Tunel Aburra Oriente (CTAO), to stop work pending a fresh EIA.
- The tunnel is the central feature of a 14.5km package of works that also includes a shorter 800m approach tunnel on the eastern outskirts of Medellin, and a new four-lane highway approach to the Santa Elena mountain that acts as a natural barrier between the city and its airport.
- The tunnel, scheduled for completion in 2016, will cut travelling times between Medellin and the airport from 45 minutes to just 18 minutes and circumvent a single-track 2450m altitude mountain road. The route is seen as part of a strategic corridor linking the capital Bogota in the east with Colombia's coastline.
- The 25-year concession to build the tunnel was awarded by the Antioquia Regional Government, with 80% of the project's cost expected to be financed from tolls.
Oriente road tunnel features a twin-tube design with cross passages
- CTAO is comprised of 52 companies, with 70% of the ownership concentrated in 10 large regional firms that include tunnelling and construction contractor Construcciones El Condor SA (which has a 12.5% stake in the project) as well as Mincivil, Ramon Coninsa HAS, Megaprojects, Latinco and AIA Architects and Engineers.
- CTAO also worked on the earlier first phase of the project, the dual carriageway toll road Via Las Palmas, which has since suffered extended closures as a result of landslides.
- Once complete the Oriente tunnel will become the second longest highway tunnel in South America after the troubled 8.8km La Linea tunnel that is currently under construction.
Tunnels key to Colombia's mountain highway - TunnelTalk, November 2011
The impact of Environmental Impact Assessments - TunnelCast, September 2011
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