A BET FOR THE 'BICENTENARIO' MOTORWAY

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 2 ene. 2012 0:38 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 16:03 ]
Carlos A. González G
.

'El País' Newspaper
Print Edition, Entorno Section, Page A3
Cali-Colombia. 14th December 2010


Opinon article

Original title: 'Apuesta por la Autopista Bicenteneraio'

I bet you a million dollars that the future ‘Bicentenario’ Motorway building costs will be the double of the expected, and that a couple of years after having opened its travel time will be the triple. Moreover, since the real demand will not match the forecasted demand, all of us citizens will subsidize by paying our taxes, those who use the motorway while the concessionaire fattens its pockets.

The proposal of the Mayoralty of Cali to build a ‘modern’ motorway that goes from North to South in 15 minutes has excited those who dream to see Cali, formerly ‘The branch of heaven’ (‘La sucursal del cielo’), turned into the ‘Los Angeles City’ of the Southern Cone. Since the technical, urban, landscape and environmental arguments against the project do not seem to have any importance, I will deal with the criticism from the only issue left to discuss: money.

The main benefits of the ‘Bicentenario’ Motorway are based on the fact that it would be implemented under a concession scheme with a toll directly paid by the users. But it is not as easy as to say that ‘the city will enjoy the benefits of a large transportation infrastructure without having to pay any construction or maintenance cost’. This statement that seems to be heaven for Cali’s citizens can be turn into hell if some crucial aspects are not discussed: Firstly, the guarantee of a minimum income that the public sector promises the concessionaire to compensate it in the case of an insufficient collection (if the real demand is lower than the forecasted demand). And, secondly, the responsibility for any cost overrun in the construction process.

Well structured projects, detailed designs and an as reliable as possible demand forecasting are essential. In our country there are not few examples in which a private company (concessionaire) with the complicity of the public sector have artificially reduced the construction budget and overestimated the traffic demand. Then, when the income by tolls was not enough, using clauses conveniently included in the concession contract, the concessionaire sued the local Government in order to be compensated for the lack of money. Despite such evidence, in Cali there are still those who think that the most important thing are the public works, that planning is a cumbersome chapter which may be omitted, and that a ‘mental traffic jam’ cannot stop the city`s development.

The Mayoralty of Cali, who has insisted on building the motorway at any cost, has rectified rightly saying that they will not yield to the intentions of the private companies regarding them receiving a minimum income guarantee by toll collection. The Mayor said that the final decision about the project should be based on the fact that the concessionaire must be able to cover entirely the cost through the toll collection in order ‘not to let Cali’s finances seized’. Thus, suddenly, the doubtful feasibility studies that the Mayor defended four months ago, are now found inadequate, something which we all knew from the beginning.

To be honest, the argument of the defense of the Treasury to reverse a project like this does not seem very believable. Fortunately for the city, it rather seems that the investors found their money at a high risk if they did not have the generous guarantees which they were used to, and they decided to ask the local administration for a better structured project in order to carry out a more reliable investment evaluation. Otherwise, they would have been delighted to carry out the project in full knowledge of leaving a ‘White elephant’ for the city.

The recent episode could be a light in the darkness in planning of the city of Cali. It would set a precedent in the ability of reflection of the local Government: It is better to rectify on time than having regrets later.

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This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Apuesta por la Autopista Bicentenario'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution.

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