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As Argentina and Chile together begin the tender process for the Agua Negra binational corridor connecting the two nations via two 13.9km single-direction tunnels, questions have arisen on the future of bi-oceanic corridors crossing the Andes mountains.
Historian Pablo Lacoste, asks in an article published by media outlet MDZ, "What will be the main corridor for heavy cargo transport? Will it be the Cristo Redentor pass? The Las Leñas corridor? Agua Negra?"
More than 20 years ago, national authorities became conscious of growing regional trade and the need to build a bioceanic corridor capable of ensuring the movement of cargo every day of the year, states Lacoste.
An engineering study was set in motion to determine the most adequate cross-Andes route between the Agua Negra tunnel (in San Juan) and the Pehuenche crossing (in Malargue, Mendoza). After a long evaluation process, Lacoste reports that the engineers concluded the best route was the Las Leñas tunnel, located 150km south of the city of Mendoza.
The Las Leñas corridor begins at highway No. 40 via provincial highway No. 220, reaching the border 76km further on, where an 11.5km tunnel is planned to be built at a height of 2,200m. On the Chilean side, 61km of highway are expected to be built to Rancagua, capital of O'Higgins region. The total costs estimate for the works is US$1.7bn.
The historian argues that the Las Leñas project is very attractive due to its relatively low altitude, implying an advantage over the current Cristo Redentor crossing located at 3,200m, as well as the latest planned development, the Agua Negra tunnel, which although only requiring a 13km tunnel, will require that truck reach an altitude of 4,000m.
Finally, there is also the Aconcagua bioceanic corridor, which is spearheaded by the Eurnekian group via the Andico corridor (Luján-Horcones). More than 50km of tunnel would be built on this route. However, the costs of US$3bn is almost double that estimated for the Las Leñas project.
In August, the governor of Argentina's Mendoza's province, Alfredo Cornejo cited the Las Leñas project as one of the projects that would greatly benefit from Argentina's recently drafted bill to modernize the country's public-private partnership (PPP) law.
For now the Andino corridor through Cristo Redentor is responsible for maintaining trans-Andean ground transport for the next few years, while advances are made in the other projects. For Lacoste, the most important thing is that authorities think strategically about the development plan for the southern half of Mendoza province, including prioritizing the Las Leñas tunnel.