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Chile's public works ministry (MOP) will finish the engineering studies for a road development project to improve connectivity between regions X and XI before year-end, public works minister Sergio Bitar told BNamericas.
The initiative falls under the country's 2020 infrastructure development plan and will improve land connectivity between the cities of Puerto Montt, in region X, and Coyhaique, in region XI.
The ministry is currently finishing up pre-investment studies and will then begin the technical engineering studies to determine the costs associated with several project alternatives before drawing up the final design, the minister said.
Works will be carried out in stages given the enormous investment the project will require, Bitar said.
The project includes works to finish the construction of the Carretera Austral road - whose master plan has yet to be completed since it was started in the late 1970s - and additional roads connecting the main corridor to coastal towns and villages, a MOP official told BNamericas.
Many of these towns and villages will also be connected to one another through the construction of coastal roads and bridges, the official added.
The plan includes building a road to Ayacara, in Palena province. Over 7,000 people live in Palena and building a road to Ayacara practically guarantees land connectivity to all of them, the official said.
The Carretera Austral is a 1,240km mainly unpaved gravel road connecting Puerto Montt to district Villa O'Higgins, in region XI.
In 2007, MOP announced upgrades to some of the highway, including the paving of at least 330km and modifications to the original design. These changes included the construction of a road stretch crossing the Parque Pumalín natural reserve, property of US environmentalist Douglas Tompkins.
Disagreements between Tompkins and MOP over the road design left the project pending until today.
It is very likely that some of the road stretches will be concessioned and partly financed by the state due to their high cost, said MOP concessions director Ricardo Trincado.
The plan will require a large number of bridges which will cost an average of 20bn-30bn pesos (US$37.5mn-56.3mn) each, the MOP official said.
The physical characteristics of the terrain make road building in the area difficult and expensive. As well as being hilly, the area is dotted with rivers, lakes and islands, which require bridges.
While the ministry moves forward with this project, it is simultaneously developing maritime connectivity in the south of the country and building ramps to receive vehicles from ferries. Therefore, roads are likely to be built connecting these coastal ramps to villages and towns first, the official said.
These roads will then be extended to interconnect with one another and the bridges will be built, the official added.
MOP is already working to upgrade the Carretera Austral and is currently building a number of bridges in region X's Pichanco area, the official said.