• The Northern Transnational Highway connectivity project is physically uniting northern El Salvador with the rest of the country.

file under: Government, Latin America, Transportation

The Bridge to Community Involvement

Building the Northern Transnational Highway in El Salvador

The smallest and most densely populated country in Central America, El Salvador is challenged to find ways to improve public programs and build new infrastructure that supports its growing and diverse population. In the country’s Northern Zone, these needs are intensified by dramatic mountain ranges and powerful rivers that have historically cut off large portions of residents from the rest of El Salvador.

This new highway, including several bridges and surface road connections, is an important step in connecting residents in the north to vital resources like marketplaces, schools and health care. 

To connect this area and support modernization, the government of El Salvador entered into a $461 million compact with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) for strategic investments in education, agriculture, business development and transportation infrastructure. The 5-year Northern Transnational Highway (NTH) connectivity project is the largest component of this partnership and intends to physically unite northern El Salvador with the rest of the country to enable new social and economic opportunities.

Building Strong Connections In The North
To aid in this comprehensive program, CDM Smith partnered with the governing agency Fondo del Milenio El Salvador (FOMILENIO) to provide program management, design services and construction supervision for NTH. “This new highway, including several bridges and surface road connections, is an important step in connecting residents in the north to vital resources like marketplaces, schools and health care,” explains Oscar Cáceres, CDM Smith client service manager. “We were able to help FOMILENIO maximize their resources and deliver world-class transportation assets that will serve the area for years to come.”

FOMILENIO met the strict regulations and tight deadlines of the MCC grant to help improve living conditions in the Northern Zone, which includes the country’s poorest residents. “FOMILENIO was designed to help inhabitants of the Northern Zone,” describes José Angel Quirós, FOMILENIO executive director. “We take an active role in giving Salvadorans an opportunity to reduce poverty through economic growth by managing the MCC grant’s three major components of human development, productivity and connectivity.”

Quirós describes how the MCC compact helped meet long-held needs with long-term planning. “We are committed to responding to the needs of a population that has demanded urgent solutions to their situation for more than 50 years. Now, Northern Zone inhabitants can see their future full of better opportunities to fulfill long-term dreams in line with sustainable development.”

Paving the Way
The connectivity project serves as the centerpiece of FOMILENIO’s work. “The NTH is a modern, 223-kilometer highway that integrates all 94 vibrant municipalities of El Salvador’s Northern Zone from Metapán, Santa Ana, to Anamorós, La Unión,” shares Carlos Duque, FOMILENIO sub-director of infrastructure. “This large-scale work was built in 13 sections requiring 25 connecting bridges, and now connects more than 850,000 inhabitants.”

CDM Smith’s program management, design expertise and construction resources helped to keep the project running smoothly on time and budget. “We oversaw management of the entire highway, and also took on design and construction supervision for two large sections,” continues Cáceres. “In El Salvador, there are only two seasons—dry and wet—so soil saturation and landslides had to be mitigated throughout while respecting ecosystems and ensuring safety.”

El Salvador NTH Northern Zone CommunityThe Northern Transnational Highway connectivity project offers residents new social and economic opportunities.

Strong oversight and supervision proved to be important, especially in the beginning of the project. “When this project started, we didn’t have a road to renovate or existing traffic patterns to replace, so we had to anticipate future traffic flow needs where there was only a river to start with,” recalls Cáceres. “Meeting the challenges of designing roads and bridges over the Lempa and Tahuilapa rivers, through tropical forests, and over mountainous areas is helping to make connections that have been needed for decades.”

Current Opportunities for Empowering Results
The results of the connectivity project have already been felt. “The NTH project provided employment opportunities for more than 2,600 Salvadorans, who have directly contributed to change the Northern Zone into a land of opportunities,” boasts Duque. “This area is now integrated with the rest of El Salvador and Central America, thus reducing costs and travel time. Without a doubt, this new NTH will bring progress and wellbeing to thousands of households throughout El Salvador.”

The completed asphalt highway is designed to meet growing demands as residents are able to increase productivity and connect to resources throughout the region. “Throughout this project, we have been able to provide new sections of roadway to a grateful population,” concludes Cáceres. “We started opening up completed sections to traffic in May of 2009 and will finish before the end of 2012. We are proud to be able to help make this vital connection, and hope it serves as a key resource for El Salvador and a powerful example for Central America.”