Inquiry Into the Planned Construction of the Pan American Highway Through Sections of Panama and Colombia

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1971-11-01.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)



                         /,   !
  Dear Senator        P&mire:

            In accordance with your request dated July 28, 1971, and subsequent
    discussions        with your office,               we have inquired                into the planned cony
     __~ _.-. .-.-.-.of t-he-Pan_,.- American          Highway
                                     _-.--.--.-_---. --___ _.._____    through sections          of Panama and
    Colombia.         The area through which the highway is to be constructed                                is
    commonly referred          to as the Darien Gap. The route for this section                                of
    highway was selected             by the Darien Subcommittee of the Organization                            of/? dqn
ZAmerican         States in November 1968, The selection                                  was preceded by route
‘/location        studies made over a period of years by the Darien Subcommittee
 , with the assistance             of the Federal
                  -------_C_.__-_.l-_-_              _^.----- __._Highway
                                                                     .-._-- ._._._Administration
                                                                                        _           (FHWA),         L-3
         Several alternative        routes were considered         for the highway,     The
  route ultimately       selected     follows     a valley through central      Panama from
  Tocumen to Palo de Las Letras on the Panama-Colombia border@                      From that
  point,   it crosses the Atrato           Swamp in Colombia to connect with the
  Turbo-Medellin      highway near Guapa, Colombia,             (See enclosed map for
  selected     route and alternative          routes considered      and proposed,)    The
  total   distance    of the planned highway is about 250 miles0                The factors
  considered      in selecting    this route are listed         belowe

          1,    The route is believed     to have superior topography and a
                minimum of river crossings     as compared with the other
                alternatives  considered.

          2.    The section of                the route through Panama provides         signifi-
                cant potential                for mineral,   timber,   and agricultural
                development in                central   Panama. The Government of Panama
                has expressed                great interest    in developing    this central

          3.    A treaty entered into in 1960 between Colombia and Panama
                provides  for the Pan American Highway to cross into
                Colombia at Palo de Las LetrasD    The route selected
                crosses the border at that point,

          4;    Engineering    and geological   studies   conducted by FHWA
                indicated   that it is possible     and feasible   to construct
                a highway through the Atrato       Swamp, A crossing     of the
                swamp at the point selected      provides a direct    route to
                a highway which leads to Bogota, Colombia,

                                             507-H ANNIVERSARY      1921- 1971

      5.   Cost estimates  indicated that it would be more economical
           to cross the swamp than to follow other alternatives   to
           connect with the highway to Bogota.

       Construction of the highway through the Darien Gap along the
selected route is estimated    to cost $149.3 million and to require about
10 years to complete.

       The enclosure   to your memorandum of July 28, 1971, discusses           an-
other highway route which some persons believe would be better              than
the one selected.      It would follow      the eastern coast of Panama to the
Gulf of Uraba from where a ferry would link up with the other side of
the Gulf 'at Turbo, Colombia.        From Turbo a motorist     would travel    north
and then south to Medellin,       Colombia,    on a highway which the proponents
of this alternative      consider  to be superior      to the highway which has
been selected    as the connecting     route to provide access to Bogota.
These proponents     contend that the route they prefer,         through Turbo,
would provide a drier,      more scenic route to Colombia than the route
selected by the Darien Subcommittee.

      An FHWA official    informed us that while the route along the Carib-
bean to Turbo was not one of the alternative      routes considered     by the
Darien Subcommittee and FHWA, it would not have been acceptable          because
the eastern part of Panama through which the proposed route would run
is isolated    by a mountain range from the central     part of the country
which the Government of Panama wishes to develop.          It should also be
noted that the 1960 treaty      between Panama and Colombia provides     for the
highway to cross into Colombia at Palo de Las Letras and the proposed
route through Turbo would not meet this treaty       requirement.    In addi-
tion,   Palo de Las Letras is also the connecting     point for a highway to
be constructed    by Colombia along the Pacific   Coast.

        The proponents   of the route through Turbo also contend that this
route would be less costly than the one selected.              One of the proponents
estimated    that the proposed route would cost about $97 million               versus
$149.3 million     for the selected    route.     The enclosure    did not indicate
the basis for the $97 million       estimate.      The $149-3 million      estimate
for the route selected was developed in part by two engineering                   consult-
ing firms and in part by FHWA.         According    to  an FHWA  official,      the   part
of the cost estimate      developed by the engineering        consulting    firms was
based on the cost of constructing         similar   types of highways in that
part of the world, while the part developed by FHWA, relating                 to con-
struction    of the highway through the Atrato Swamp, was based on FHWA's


    best engineering     judgment.   This cost estimate    includes    a 15 percent
    factor    for engineering   and supervision,   20 percent for contingencies,
    and 25 percent for inflation      over the lo-year    construction    period.
    These factors     should provide some protection    against possible      cost

                                                 Sincerely   yours,        g

                                                 of the United    States


r 2 The Honorable   William   Proxmire
  , United States   Senate

’   .