How has the Ruta del Sol project evolved over the last year?
The project is going well and as planned. We expect to finish it by the end of 2018. In November 2015, we completed a crucial phase—a 120-km dual carriageway with a new highway built and the old road rehabilitated. Considering the original seven contractual sections, we have the priority sections 1, 5, and 6 completely done, delivered, and in the O&M phase.
Another of your landmark projects in Colombia is improving the navigability of the Magdalena River. How is that project progressing?
We are dealing now with the pre-construction phase of the project and we'll have until mid-2016 to complete it. We initially took over control of the river in June 2015 and we were affected by the drought in the region. However, we managed to maintain navigability in the river and we have also undertaken the financial side of the project, which we expect to have completed by March 2016. The project foresees five years of construction, but we expect to complete it in four years. This is a rather short-term project that presents a 13½-year concession between pre-construction and construction activity. We foresee intelligent dredging in the river, especially between Barrancabermeja and Puerto Salgar, which are key areas for project feasibility. We looked at projects like the Rhine in Germany to develop something similar in Colombia.
How are you working to minimalize the environmental impact on the river?
Environmental issues concerning the project are almost non-existent on the Magdalena River. The licensing for this project is also less bureaucratic and we are expecting minimum social challenges as well. We have been doing maintenance works on the river and the navigable channel since the first day when we assumed control. We will work on 150 breakwaters that will have no affect on villages or towns along the river—we are committed to having no social or environmental impact.
In your opinion, how important are public private partnerships (PPP) when it comes to boosting the infrastructure development of the country?
The PPP law in Colombia is one of the best in the world—it is very clear in terms of the contribution of the state, the commitment of private institutions, and so on. In the current environment, with the devaluation of the Colombian peso and the dropping of oil prices, private companies can bring the cash and investment that public institutions currently lack. In other words, we can compensate the current situation and the government understands that. For example, we proposed a public transport project related to Transmilenio in the Boyaca Avenue, in Bogotá, which would be financed by funds from private drivers. However, the proposal seems to have been diluted between other priorities for the local authorities, as well as the local elections, and we hope to give it a boost during 2016.
Is the company interested in developing projects in other cities outside Bogotá?
We are considering potential projects in Barranquilla, Cartagena and in the adjacent area. There we would be interested in projects related to traffic management. Cartagena and Barranquilla, among other towns in the country, are also cities where we could develop urban mobility projects. We have a great deal of knowledge and expertise in this field and we see potential projects for the future similar to the Bogotá Metro and the Transmilenio expansion, which are complementary rather than incompatible. In terms of the Bogotá Metro project, there is plenty of financial support, but there are still some key elements that need to be clarified by local authorities. This is a great project that needs the development of other transport infrastructure projects. Now that the local elections are over, we will be hearing from the council of Bogotá on this and other projects and we will make sure that we will participate in important projects for the city. We aim to boost transport and urban mobility by strengthening public transport systems across Colombia, so people are encouraged to use public transport rather than their private vehicles.
What other sectors offer great potential to you?
We can take an active part in the energy projects the government wants to boost. There is a lack of energy infrastructure along the coast and we could offer a lot of alternatives as solutions. Water recycling systems and sewage water projects are also areas in which there is a lot to be done in Colombia. Water is the main challenge in the 21st century, and Odebrecht can positively affect Colombia's development in that regard. The water tariff culture in the country must change. We also see a lot of potential in the agribusiness industry.
Where do you see the company in 2017, the year in which you will commemorate your 25th anniversary in Colombia?
We are among the top 10 construction companies in Colombia. We want to be among the top five. In addition, we want to become the most attractive company for young people to work for when finishing their studies. We want to further help Colombia develop its infrastructure and be ready to take on future challenges associated to its continuous growth and development.