The symbol of resumed operations in Colombia is the construction of one of the most important infrastructure projects in Latin America.
We’ve never left Colombia. We’ve been here for 19 years.” That observation from Luiz Antonio Bueno Jr., CEO of Odebrecht Colombia, sums up a history that dates back to 1992. That year, the company became responsible for the construction of oil pumping stations for British Petroleum for the next two years. After that, from 1994 to 1995, it took charge of the Port of Drummond project. In later years, it added the La Loma-Santa Marta Railroad to its track record, a project that resulted in the reconstruction of 223 km of the national rail network, including design, fabrication, assembly and operation of the entire superstructure, as well as construction of a thermal power plant, a sewage treatment plant and, finally, the Miel I hydroelectric plant (375 MW) in Caldas, built with roller-compacted concrete, and still considered the world’s highest RCC dam: 192 m high and 354 m long.
Having completed those contracts in 2003, Odebrecht stayed in Colombia to look for new business opportunities until, in 2009, it won the contract for the Ruta del Sol Highway – one of Latin America’s most important infrastructure and engineering works in recent years – and the Tunjuelo-Canoas interceptor, a sanitation (water and sewer) project in Bogota.
“The resumption of the Organization’s activities in Colombian territory is explained by the fact that the country has achieved good political, economic and social conditions that will ensure its sustainable development,” says Bueno Junior. Emphasizing that his mission is to restructure the Organization’s presence in that country and make the most of opportunities and businesses, both quantitatively and qualitatively, he says that the way forward is promising, supported by an environment where the rule of law prevails. “Odebrecht is positioning itself in this country in two ways: as a contractor and as a company that invests in infrastructure, because in the next few years the Government will be developing large engineering projects structured as PPPs (public-private partnerships) and public works concessions, which foster a long-term relationship and a commitment to the development of this country,” he explains.
Bueno Junior’s observations are based on truly attractive facts and figures. The country has a GDP of USD 250 billion/year, a population of 44 million people, major oil reserves, and the fourth-largest coal reserves on the planet. It was recently rated “investment grade” (a rating agency risk category conferred on a country or company to demonstrate its ability to meet financial commitments) and has a relatively stable economy, demonstrating that it has what it takes to encourage the march of growth.
In 2009, Odebrecht Colombia won the contract to build the Tunjuelo-Canoas interceptor. Led by Colombian Project Director Jorge Barragán, it involves building 11 km of tunnels, each about 5 m in diameter, which will convey sewage from Bogota to the future Canoas Treatment Plant. The USD 120-million project is divided into stages, starting with the sewer pipe and construction of the tunnel leading to the treatment plant, as well as a power tunnel at the treatment plant. In line with the partnerships with Colombian companies that Bueno Junior mentioned, Odebrecht has formed a joint venture with Cass Constructores to build the project.
The Ruta del Sol Highway is a project of a completely different magnitude. It is the most important route in a country with some of the fewest paved roads in Latin America. The 1,071-km highway involves a USD 2.5-billion investment and will be divided into three sectors. Ruta del Sol SAS, a concessionaire led by Odebrecht (62.1%), with two Colombian partners, Corficolombiana (33%) and Solarte (4.99%), is responsible for Sector 2, which represents an investment of approximately USD 1 billion.
Considered the largest and most important section of the Ruta del Sol, Sector 2 is 528 km in length. It begins in Puerto Salgar and ends in San Roque, connecting the capital, Bogota, to the Caribbean Sea. Odebrecht is also responsible for the construction of this section. Ground was broken in May 2011 and the roadworks will completed in five years. The concession period, which includes operation and maintenance, is 20 years.
The Ruta del Sol project also includes the expansion and construction of a stretch in rural Colombia, beginning in the town of Villeta (80 km northwest of Bogota) and running through eight departments and 39 counties, an area representing 26.1% of national GDP and 30% of the population. This venture will make Colombia more competitive in the international market and help improve access roads to the ports of Cartagena, Santa Marta and Barranquilla, which account for 52% of the country’s port traffic.
Eder Ferracuti, President of the Ruta del Sol concessionaire, observes that since operations of the highway began in April 2010, the need to work with the local community has gained prominence and resulted in the creation of nine Community Service Centers as bases for running the Basic Social Plan. That plan offers support programs for the communities impacted by the project, including the User Program (that ensures constant communication between the highway’s users and the concessionaire), the Safe Mobility Program (taking measures to improve safety on the road) and the Communicate and Neighbors Program (a place where the local community can go to make suggestions and complaints about the project); the Initiatives Program (which supports productive projects in the sphere of influence of Sector 2 of the highway); and the Reinhabit Program (which seeks to mitigate the impacts on communities directly affected by the project). “It’s a huge responsibility and a very special time. This is the longest highway in the country, and we are responsible for the longest stretch. So far, there have been no examples of complete success in the history of road concessions in Colombia,” says Eder.
The factors that set this new era of concessions apart are clear. As soon as they entered the concessionaire’s center of operations, the Odebrecht Informa team saw attendants trained to communicate information to users, and a large-screen monitor that displays images from cameras already installed along the route. The people working in that room can also determine the exact location of each of the 70 support vehicles the concessionaire uses to operate the concession, including vans, tow trucks and cranes. To ensure the safety of that 528-km stretch of Sector 2, the concessionaire has signed a Cooperation Agreement with the Colombian Highway Police covering more than 3,000 items, including 56 high-powered motorcycles, dozens of cell phones and computers and hundreds of traffic cones, which should help the police patrol the area.
In addition to operation and maintenance, under Eder Ferracuti’s leadership Ruta del Sol’s operations also include building a further 528 km and widening the existing roadway. This is an example of the Odebrecht Organization’s investment arm giving way to the construction arm. Manuel Ricardo Cabral Ximenes, Project Director of Consorcio Constructor Ruta del Sol (Consol), the joint-venture contractor formed by Odebrecht and Colombian contracting firms Corficolombiana and CSS Constructores S.A., explains that they are using sophisticated heavy equipment, 350 units of which were acquired directly by Consol out of the total of 820 that will be used along the entire length of Sector 2. When describing the project, Manuel highlights the use of three Shuttle Buggies for the first time on an Odebrecht project – equipment used to keep the layer of asphalt smooth. “Thanks to these machines, we can keep trucks and pavers from bumping into each other, maintaining constant speed in the execution of the asphalt layer so it isn’t wavy,” observes Manuel, who will deliver the project by 2016, with the help of a workforce of 5,000 people.