Down by the River

The Magdalena River hopes to become a vital route for trade and passage once again.

The recovery of the navigability of Magdalena River is an ambitious infrastructure project that aims to create a waterway through the heart of Colombia; a new path that will ease trade, slash transportation costs, and boost the national economy. The project is regarded as one of the most challenging infrastructure works in Latin America, and the Magdalena is forecast to be navigable again within the next 10 years. The river flows northward for around 1,528km from the Andes through the western half of the nation to the city of Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast. The pharaonic work will cost around $1.3 billion and generate approximately 9,425 new jobs.

The Magdalena River has historically been a vital corridor for the country. However, in the early 1960s the river began to lose its relevance as the government instead prioritized the construction of highways and rail lines. Colombia’s economic growth in the 20th Century was concentrated in cities such as Bogotá, Cali, and Medellí­n, none of which are crossed by the river.

In 2014, the Navalena consortium, made up of Colombian company Valorcon and Brazilian giant Odebrecht, won a PPP contract to restore the river as a viable means of transport that will connect the country’s main production and consumption centers, while lowering transport costs and providing better logistics alternatives. Nearly 73% of cargo in Colombia is currently transported by land, while just 1% flows through rivers, and transport costs account for 65% of the total cost of manufacturing and delivering products in Colombia, a rate dramatically higher than in other Latin American countries. In addition to lowering CO2 emissions and decreasing the maintenance costs and congestion of road networks, the revitalized waterway will decrease transport costs, making Colombia’s economy more competitive.

Due to its position at the mouth of the Magdalena, the city of Barranquilla, once known as the “Golden Gate of Colombia,” will likely be the principal beneficiary of the river’s improved navigability.

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