Millennium Challenge Corporation; United States of America

El Salvador Road Construction Shifts into High Gear

Holy Week, or Semana Santa, is normally a quiet time for most countries in Latin America. This week-long celebration of Easter brings families together, while closing most government offices and businesses, as people enjoy much-needed vacations or time to attend religious ceremonies, rest, and reflect.

El Salvador is usually no exception. However, last Monday, FOMILENIO was abuzz with activity as the very first road construction contract was signed for the Northern Transnational Highway. High-level officials, including the Technical Secretary of the Presidency, the Minister of Public Works and Transportation, and FOMILENIO’s Executive Director, interrupted their vacations to meet with representatives of MECO S.A., a Costa Rica-based construction firm, to celebrate the long-awaited initiation of this historic project. The conference room was full of television, radio, and newspaper reporters.

At the press conference, the participants provided the media and the public at large the details of this important project. Spanning about 290 kilometers (180 miles), the Northern Transnational Highway is slated to extend from the Guatemalan border in the northwest corner of El Salvador, all the way across the northern part of the country to the Honduran border in the east. For more than 50 years, Salvadorans have dreamed of having this strategic transport corridor, necessary to link small towns and cities throughout the Northern Zone, and also to link them with the rest of the country. These goals seem all the more important when one considers how the Northern Zone suffered disproportionately during El Salvador’s civil war, not only in terms of physical infrastructure development but also in terms of human and social development. In many ways, the Northern Transnational Highway is a symbol of peace, and a concrete example of how MCC funds can be used to stimulate economic growth and poverty reduction.

This is why news of the first road construction contract made local headlines and nightly news programs. The first 23 kilometer road segment covered by this contract includes two important bridges, including one of approximately 150 meters, or 460 feet, over the Río Lempa, the largest river in the country. This segment stretches from the bustling border town of Metapán to Santa Rosa de Guachipelín, a small municipality on the shores of Río Lempa. The ability to cross this river quickly and safely from Santa Rosa Guachipelín to Metapán year-round, instead of having to travel a far longer and circuitous route (see photo), is a major benefit.

A vehicle attempts to cross the river to get from Santa Rosa Guachipelín to Metapán

Several reporters directed their questions to the topic of job creation-a high priority given the challenges confronted by El Salvador and others in the region experiencing the aftershocks of the global financial crisis. In addition to estimates of over 300 jobs on this first segment, Mr. Denis Monge, a representative from MECO, talked about opportunities for women. He indicated that MECO would make hiring women a priority. He pointed out that this goal is particularly important in the Northern Zone, since women are heads of households and principal income earners in a disproportionately high number of families, a result of decades of emigration, where many people, especially young men, have left the country in search of greater economic opportunities.

Stay tuned for news about the groundbreaking on this first road segment, scheduled for later this month.