JUAN ESTEBAN GIL

Colombia 2021 | INDUSTRY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Juan Esteban Gil, Managing Director of INVIAS, about infrastructure in Colombia, government programs, and the challenges of geography.

INVIAS' recent combined projects of infrastructure development in Colombia are the country's most ambitious to date. What is the goal behind of this initiative?

President Iván Duque wants to frame the economic reactivation of the country around projects that are employment intensive, spread opportunities across regions, and leave a long-lasting mark of infrastructure improvement. These projects make up Compromiso por Colombia, the most ambitious public infrastructure program ever carried out in the country. It will generate 105,000 direct jobs, benefit 24 million Colombians and with which there will be 1,660 new kilometers of roads. It is a medium and long-term commitment to increase competitive productive areas in the country. Among its objectives is to guarantee the connection with remote regions, which is why it includes roads in Arauca, Guajira, Caquetá, Cauca and Putumayo.
INVIAS is focused on the development of infrastructure projects that improve transportation of materials, food and economic opportunities, and the increase in connectivity helps to guarantee regional growth. INVIAS has designed the projects, but resources to guarantee execution were lacking. Today, thanks to Compromiso por Colombia, COP11.5 trillion (about USD3.125 million) have been allocated for the construction and completion of highways. In some cases, the highways connect capital cities, but have low volume of traffic, which means that they do not generate enough income to build them through PPPs, so they need public funds. Compromiso por Colombia is divided into two lines. The first one is called Concluir y Concluir para la Reactivación de las Regiones and seeks to conclude infrastructure projects that began 15 years ago or more and have not been completed. There are 28 projects (of which INVIAS has already awarded and started 27) that will need around COP2.3 trillion (about USD629 millions) to finish those roads that connect remote places. For example, in the department of Choco, there were no roads connecting it to Antioquia or Risaralda, and now there are. We are also completing the road that connects Putumayo to the border with Ecuador and a road that connects Bogotá with Cúcuta, on the border with Venezuela. This infrastructure investment package seeks to improve access links with neighboring countries. The second line is Vías para la Legalidad y la Reactivación de las Regiones Visión 2030, comprising 22 more infrastructure projects with which we expect to transform the country's mobility in the next 5 to 10 years. Of these 22 projects, we have already awarded 19. We are also completing a binational corridor between Ecuador and Colombia. Simultaneously, we are working on rural roads with investments of around COP3.7 trillion (about USD1,013 million) so that educational and health services reach remote places and the countryside of Colombia is more productive. This is the Colombia Rural program, which aims to maintain and improve tertiary roads. The country has 142,000 km of tertiary roads and our goal is to improve 8,000 km of these tertiary roads and maintain 15,000 km.
We want the country to be more competitive. All the roads built by INVIAS have social cost effectiveness, rather than economic cost effectiveness. We become a social entity for infrastructure. Colombia Fluvial, for example, is a program focused in the Pacific, Orinoquia, and Amazon regions. Through this program we have quintupled investments in infrastructure works in municipalities where the only access is through rivers or air. Among these works, contracts for the construction of 13 docks have been awarded. These works, which have a total investment of COP26,200 million (about USD7.2 million), benefit about 46,585 inhabitants of departments such as Chocó, Amazonas, Putumayo, Meta, Vichada, Guaviare, Vaupés, Guainía and Caquetá.

These projects have been extremely efficient in terms of awarding. Why has the process been so efficient, and why is it there so much interest from the market?

We started the strategy to gather funds to increase the possibility of public investment. We had advanced on designs and licenses, and we have always been known for legality and transparency in the awarding processes. As a result, there is trust in the market in our projects. We need to do a sustainable social transformation to have stable finances and guarantee these projects can be carried out. There are regions that are highly productive, but because they do not have connection or access, they generate illegal products, or there is no agricultural development. We are building a road in Guaviare, and while we were building it all the illicit crops started disappearing. Now, there is avocado, cocoa, blackberries, and coffee. This is all under the leadership of Transport Minister Ángela María Orozco, who is an excellent manager, which helps to improve confidence from the private sector. She brings credibility to the sector, which has been a priority for this government. The leadership of Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez has also been outstanding; she is a champion of infrastructure.

INVIAS aims to be recognized by 2030 in the region for its leadership and excellence in planning, execution, and operation of infrastructure. What steps are you taking toward this goal?

INVIAS is making sure people are well-connected in a safe, timely, and efficient way. We have three large goals to achieve this vision in the long term. We have to continue with the efficient management of the projects discussed previously. We are also going through an administrative transformation, through institutional redesign, being transparent in hiring practices, and a digital transformation. The third key element is technical strengthening based on innovation, risk management and sustainability. We are the leaders in the infrastructure industry, so if we innovate, the regional offices also become renovated, and we develop new technologies that they can use. The country is finally thinking of intelligent systems for roads such as radars and sensors on national roads. We will start selling securities for INVIAS future projects so people can buy them and participate in the process. Those three elements lead us to modernize infrastructure so people can travel around the country better. In this government, we are delivering the projects that were never delivered before. Puente Pumarejo and Túnel de La Línea projects are examples that public entities such as INVIAS can carry out large projects. In the second semester of 2021, we will deliver Cruce de la Cordillera Central, the most important infrastructure project in the history of the country. Colombia is a leader in tunnels: we have the longest tunnel, the widest tunnel, and the tunnel at the highest altitude. The five longest tunnels on the continent are in Colombia, and we have over 100 tunnels. We do knowledge exchanges with other countries of what we have learned in projects like Túnel de La Línea, which had a multiplier effect on the building of tunnels in the country. Colombian companies that build tunnels are extremely competitive on the global market, because our geography is daunting. Chile is looking to cross the Andes Mountains to Argentina, and it came to study the Túnel de La Línea project for that purpose.