Colombia Road Network

By | November 21, 2022

Colombia’s road network.

The total road network in Colombia has a length of 206,500 kilometers. Of this, 19,079 kilometers belong to the primary road network, of which 10,155 kilometers are managed by Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura (ANI) and 8,924 kilometers are managed by Instituto Nacional de Vías (INVÍAS).

Of the 206,500 kilometers, 19,079 kilometers are primary roads, 45,137 kilometers are secondary roads and 142,284 kilometers are tertiary roads. The definition of a road has been adjusted so that the tertiary road network doubled from 73,000 to 142,000 kilometers between 2007 and 2011.

As of June 2018, the INVÍAS network consisted of 9,114 kilometers, of which 75% was paved and 25% unpaved at that time.

According to wholevehicles, Colombia’s road network is underdeveloped compared to other major Latin American countries. It is clearly of lower quality than in countries such as Argentina, Chile or Mexico. Despite this, a lot is being invested in the road network, because this is by far the most important mode of transport. There are no real motorways, although approximately 3,200 kilometers of interurban roads have been constructed with 2×2 or 2×3 lanes. In Bogotá there are some highway-like parts, but there is no highway network. Since most major cities are located in the Andes Mountains, the road network is the most developed here. Along the west coast, the road network is severely underdeveloped and virtually non-existent southeast of the Andes Mountains in the Amazon jungles.

The main roads are mostly paved, but traveling takes a lot of time due to the high mountain ridges and the lack of motorways. In Medellín there are also some highway-like sections and some main roads of urban areas are quite wide. This is due to the presence of a bus rapid transit system with bus stations in the central reservation. Overland there are no connections to Panama, the so-called Darién Gap. However, there are border crossings with Venezuela and Ecuador. The border region with Peru consists of impenetrable jungles, here the main form of transport is the extensive river system of the Amazon. The Amazon River is still 1 to 2 kilometers wide in this area.

Road classes

  • Carreteras primarias: the main roads under national management. They connect major cities and are almost all paved.
  • Carreteras secundarias: the regional roads in the management of the departments. They branch off main roads and connect smaller towns. Partly paved.
  • Carreteras terciarias: the secondary roads in the management of municipalities. They have the same design requirements as the roads of the departments, are sometimes paved in built-up areas, often not outside.
  • Caminos Vecinales: the other roads under municipal management. This concerns the most secondary roads, largely unpaved roads in poor condition.

Autopistas

An autopista in Colombia usually means a toll road and not a motorway as in Spain. Autopistas are single-lane and sometimes with 2×2 lanes, the so-called “carreteras de doble calzada”. These double-lane roads are not real highways, although some double-lane roads are semi-grade. Actually Colombia does not have full highways, although there are some highway-like roads in the major cities, mainly in Bogotá, Cali and Medellín. A construction program is underway to widen more long-haul routes between major cities to 2×2 lanes, but construction of these roads is costly and time-consuming due to the mountainous terrain.

Rutas nacionales

A ruta nacional is a main road in Colombia. The numbering of these was established by law in 1995, but was changed significantly in 1999, when many routes were deleted or shortened. In 2001 the numbering was adjusted again. The rutas nacionales are the main connections in Colombia, although many rutas nacionales are very time consuming to drive. Many routes are mountainous. These are often mountain routes of more than 100 kilometers in length that quickly take 3 hours travel time. In the west, east and north many rutas nacionales are unpaved.

Colombia’s road network is poorly integrated with that of neighboring countries. Of the five neighboring countries, there are no road connections with Brazil, Panama and Peru. There are only two major border crossings with Ecuador and Venezuela. Colombia is therefore not an important transit country by road. The longest rutas nacionales are about 1,400 kilometers long.

The rutas nacionales are divided into Troncales, which run north-south, and Transversales, which run east-west. Odd numbers run north-south and even numbers run east-west. The network of rutas nacionales is again divided into a primary network (in bold in the overview below) and regular rutas nacionales. Even the primary routes are not always paved. Also, they are not necessarily fast routes. The RN25 is often considered Colombia’s main road.

Rutas nacionales in Colombia
TroncalesRN1 • RN3 • RN5 • RN13 • RN17 • RN19 • RN21 • RN23 • RN25 • RN27 • RN29 • RN31 • RN37 • RN43 • RN45 • N49 • RN55RN65 • RN75 • RN85

Transsales

RN8 • RN10 • RN12 • RN20 • RN24 • RN26 • RN30 • RN36 • RN40 • RN48 • RN50 • RN56 • RN60RN62 • RN64 • RN66 • RN70 • RN74 • RN78RN80 • RN88 • RN90

Toll

Tolls have to be paid on many main roads in Colombia. More than half of Colombia’s national roads are under concession. This toll is levied in an open system, with strategically placed toll stations. In 2013, there were 473 toll stations in Colombia.

Tolls were first introduced in Colombia in 1954 to pay for road construction. At the time, Colombia’s road network was still developing, only few through roads were paved. The network of toll roads expanded strongly from the 1990s when 3 series of concessions were awarded in quick succession to pay for the improvement of the road network, from 2015 more than half of the national road network was under concession, in fact about two thirds of the asphalted rutas nacionales.

Road management

The national road authority is the Instituto Nacional de Vías, or INVÍAS. In addition, many roads are under concession, for which the Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura (ANI) was established in 2011, which is responsible for the planning and implementation of PPP projects.

History

During the Spanish colonial period, roads were developed for the transportation of goods by pack mule or ox, as well as stagecoach routes. At the time, the main transport routes ran from the capital Bogotá to the valley of the río Magdalena, giving access to the Caribbean Sea. After independence, the road network began to be developed in the second half of the 19th century. In 1865 the first gravel road was built between Cúcuta and the río Zulia. In 1882 there was a road between Bogotá and Cambao on the río Magdalena and in 1910 a road from Cali and Cartago on the rio La Vieja. The first roads were therefore mainly connections from the large cities to rivers, so that transport could continue by boat.

In 1905, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas was established to build infrastructure in Colombia. Shortly afterwards, construction began on the Carretera Central del Norte, which was to run from Bogotá to the Venezuelan border at Cúcuta. Construction would eventually take more than 25 years. In 1916 Colombia had only 491 kilometers of road, mostly in the region around Bogotá. Between 1916 and 1930, 1,600 kilometers of road were built, but without a clear plan and of inferior quality, so that some roads quickly became impassable and the existing road network had little logic. In 1930 Colombia had 5,700 kilometers of road, mainly between cities and rivers, there was not yet a nationwide network of roads.

In 1931, the first national road plan was established. This provided a national network of 6,204 kilometers, consisting of three north-south routes and several east-west routes. These were the Troncal del centro, Troncal Occidental and Troncal Oriental. From 1938 the first national roads started to be asphalted. A new Plan Vial Nacional was enacted in 1949 and tolls were first introduced in 1954 to pay for the roads. In 1959 there were 13,889 kilometers of ruta nacional, of which 2,223 kilometers was asphalted.

In the 1950s and 1960s, more money became available for the construction of roads, partly due to the introduction of a fuel tax in 1966. The major thoroughfares were further developed as asphalt roads from that time on. In the 1980s, most major roads were tarred, but the alignment quality was often poor, with long stretches with lots of curves and narrow sections, so road travel was time consuming, and Colombia was also lagging behind. other South American countries. The large cities were located in the mountains and could only reach the export markets by long and dangerous drives through mountainous terrain to the ports. The import was just as difficult that way.

In 1992, a national road numbering system was introduced for the first time, which had to give a number to the named troncals and transversales. In 1993 there was more than 100,000 kilometers of road, of which only 13,000 kilometers were asphalted. Outside the main roads one had to continue on dirt roads to reach villages. The 1992 numbered routes didn’t all exist in reality, or were illogical connections with hardly any traffic. That is why a new road numbering system was introduced in 1995, numbered in a grid. This network was also partly planned, some numbered routes had not yet been constructed. A limited renumbering was carried out in 1999. Also at that time many short branches and roads that had been bypassed were transferred to the departments and municipalities.

Colombia’s road network was very underdeveloped and was a serious impediment to economic growth. As a result, in 1994 the first generation of concessions was issued to improve the road network. 11 concessions were awarded to construct or modernize 1,649 kilometers of road. Under this plan, the first two-lane roads with 2×2 lanes were also constructed, namely Cali – Cartago and Bogotá – Tunja. A second generation of concessions were awarded for 470 kilometers of road in 1995, followed by a third generation of concessions for 1,557 kilometers of road in 1998, including the important Ruta del Sol, a 1,071 kilometer section of the former RN57 and present-day RN45 from near Bogotá to the Caribbean coast.

A new Red Nacional de Carreteras (National Road Network) was formally established in 2001, however with the same 1999 numbering. The 2001 road classification was based on the first, second and third generation concessions. In 2006, a Plan de Integración Vial de Corredores was launched, in which 38 corridors had to be improved. In 2009, Colombia had 25,000 kilometers of tarmac roads, not much for a country of nearly 50 million inhabitants. In 2012, the number of kilometers of 2×2 lanes increased to 1,049 kilometers, which grew to 3,200 kilometers in 2018. However, the majority of these 2×2 roads are not real highways.

In 2012, the 4th generation (4G) of concessions was awarded under which 8,170 kilometers of road had to be developed as PPS. This is also known as the Vías 4G. The Agencia Nacional de Infraestructura (INA) was established for this purpose in 2011. In 2015, for the first time, there were more national roads under concession than without. In 2020, the first 4G corridor was completed, the missing link of the RN45 between Girardot and Honda.

Tunnels

Colombia started building and planning several long tunnels after 2010;

  • Túnel de La Quiebra (4,200 m), east of Medellín
  • Túnel de Oriente (8,200 m), east of Medellín
  • Túnel de la Línea (8,650 m), east of Armenia
  • Túnel del Toyo (9,840 m), northwest of Medellín

Road Upgrades in Colombia

In Colombia, series of concessions have been awarded to modernize the road network. This is referred to as a ‘generation’ (1G, 2G, 3G, 4G).

1G projects

Project Length Period of time Weigh Comments
Barranquilla – Cartagena (Via del Mar) 92 km 1994-1995 Partial doubling to 2×2 lanes
Santa Marta – Riohacha – Paraguachón 250 km 1994- Modernization
Granada – Villavicencio – Puerto Gaitan (Malla Vial del Meta) 268 km 1994- Modernization, concession for 188 km ended in 2016, reactivated in 2021 as 4G project
Bogotá – La Vega – Villeta 82 km 1994- doubling to 2×2 lanes
Bogotá – Villavicencio 86 km 1994- Build tunnels and viaducts, partial doubling. Most technically complex part of 1G projects
Desarrollo Vial del Norte de Bogotá (DEVINORTE) 51 km 1994- Construction Autopista Norte in Bogotá, doubling further to Zipaquirá
Bogotá (Fontibón) – Faca – Los Alpes 38 km 1995- doubling to 2×2 lanes
Neiva – Espinal – Girardot 168 km 1995-2016 Modernization
Desarrollo Vial del Oriente de Medellin (DEVIMED) 297 km 1996- doubling Medellín – Marinilla, modernization further to Caño Alegre.
Armenia – Pereira – Manizales 188 km 1998-2009 doubling to 2×2 lanes

2G projects

Project Length Period of time Weigh Comments
Malla Vial del Valle del Cauca y Cauca (Cali Region) 389 km 1999-2018 upgrade roads around Cali, major doubling RN 23, RN 25 and connections in between
Tobia Grande – Puerto Salgari 71 km 1997- Construction of a new route (not implemented)
Briceño – Tunja – Sogamoso 206 km 1998- doubling of 148 km to Duitama and modernization of the rest of the road
Pereira – La Paiba – Armenia – Calarcá ? km 199x- Maintenance, construction bypass Armenia – Calarcá
Bosa – Granada – Girardo ? km 199x- doubling to 2×2 lanes south of Bogotá
Girardot – Ibagué – Calarcá ? km 199x- doubling to 2×2 lanes, tunnel
Planeta Rica – Montería – Cereté – Santiago de Tolú ? km 199x- Modernization
Buga – Buenaventura ? km 199x Partial doubling, modernization
San Gil – Bucaramanga – Barrancabermeja ? km 199x- Modernization, doubling at Bucaramanga
Ibague – Honda ? km 199x- Modernization
Cartagena – Turbaco – Sincelejo ? km 199x- Modernization
Medellin – La Pintada ? km 199x- Modernization
Santander de Quilichao – Popayan ? km 199x- Modernization
El Espinal – Chaparral – Buga ? km 199x- Modernization, construction of a route through the mountains? (not realized)
Bucaramanga – Yé de Ciénaga – Santa Marta ? km 199x- Modernization
Bucaramanga – Cucuta – Puente Simón Bolivar ? km 199x- Modernization, doubling at Cúcuta
Girardot – Cambao – Puerto Bogotá ? km 199x- Construction of paved road east bank río Magdalena
Cartagena – Turbo ? km 199x- Modernization (presumably of parts and not the entire route)
Neiva – Pitalito ? km 199x- Modernization
Barranquilla – Cartagena ? km 199x- Modernization, continuation of 1G project
Carmen – Zambrano – Plato – Bosconia – Valledupar (Transversal de los Contenedores) ? km 199x- Modernization, nowadays Ruta del Sol

3G projects

Project Length Period of time Weigh Comments
Briceño – Tunja – Sogamoso 202 km 2002- doubling, continuation of 2G project
Pereira – La Victoria 54 km 2004-2016 doubling
Zona Metropolitana Bucaramanga 58 km 2006-2022 doubling, modernization
Rumichaca – Pasto 156 km 2006- Modernization, partial doubling, first concession in southern Colombia
Montería – Cereté – La Ye – Sincelejo – Carreto – Cruz de Viso (Córdoba – Sucre) 179 km 2007-2024 Partial doubling, modernization
Area Metropolitana de Cucuta 152 km 2007-2026 doubling, partly continuation of project 2G
Barranquilla – Cartagena – Cruz de Viso (Ruta Caribe) 289 km 2007-2036 Partial doubling, maintenance 1G project
Girardot – Ibagué – Cajamarca 147 km 2006-2021 doubling
Guaduas – Puerto Salgar (Ruta del Sol – Sector 1) 78 km 2010-2017 doubling, new route
Puerto Salgar – San Roque (Ruta del Sol – Sector 2) 575 km 2009-2035 doubling
San Roque – Y de la Cienega (Ruta del Sol – Sector 3) 465 km 2020-2036 doubling
Lomas Aisladas – Turbo – El Quince (Transversal de las Americas – Sector 1) 714 km 1999-2018 Modernization, also includes some other roads in northwestern Colombia
Zipaquira – Bucaramanga (Zipaquira – Palenque) 370 km 2015-2016 Modernization
Buga – Loboguerrero 55 km 2013-2016 doubling, continuation of plan 2G
Bosa – Granada – Girardo 132 km 2004-2021 doubling, continuation of plan 2G

4G projects

Project Length Period of time Weigh Comments
Bolombolo – Medellin (Autopista Conexion Pacific 1) 50 km 2014-2021 doubling over new route
La Pintada – Bolomboló / Medellin (Autopista Conexión Pacific 2) 98 km 2014-2020 doubling over new route / modernization (continuation of plan 2G)
La Virginia – La Pintada (Autopista Conexion Pacific 3) 146 km 2014-2039 doubling and modernization
Cartagena – Barranquilla (Circunvalar de la Prosperidad) 147 km 2014-2039 Construction bypass Barranquila, modernization RN90
Cáqueza – Choachí – Sopó / Sesquilé (Perimetral de Oriente de Cundinamarca) 153 km 2014-2017 Construction eastern bypass Bogotá
Remedios – Zaragoza – Caucasia (Autopistas Conexion Norte) 145 km 2014-2016 Construction of new road northeast of Medellín region
Puerto Salgar – Honda – Girardot 190 km 2014-2017 Modernization
Mulalo – Loboguerrero 32 km 2014-2046 Construction of new road northwest of Medellín
Remedios – Puerto Berrio (Autopista al Rio Magdalena) 32 km 2014-2045 detour Puerto Berrío with bridge over the Magdalena, modernization
Girardot – Cajamarca (GICA) 225 km 2015- Modernization, extension 3G project
Malla Vial del Valle del Cauca y Cauca (Cali Region) 354 km 2015-2016 Continuation 3G project
Chirajara – Fundadores 86 km 2015- doubling, continuation 1G project
Cesar – Guajira 350 km 2015- Modernization
Cambao – Manizales 256 km 2015- Modernization
Caucasia – Montería – Puerto Rey / Montería – Coveñas – Tolú – Cruz de Viso (Antioquia – Bolívar) 491 km 2015-2049 doubling, diversion, modernization
Neiva – Girardot 193 km 2015- doubling
Puerta de Hierro – Palmar de Varela, Carreto – Cruz del Viso 170 km 2015- Modernization
Aguaclara – Sisaga (Transversal del Sisga) 137 km 2015- Modernization
Villavicencio – Yopal 262 km 2015- Modernization
Popayan – Santander de Quilichao 76 km 2015- Modernization
Santa Ana – Mocoa – Neiva 447 km 2015- Modernization
Bucaramanga – Barranca – Yondó 101 km 2015- Modernization
Medellin – Santa Fe de Antioquia (Autopistas al Mar 1) 176 km 2015- doubling, tunnel, maintenance connecting roads
Ipiales / Rumichaca – Pasto 80 km 2015- Modernization
Cañasgordas – El Tigre (Autopistas al Mar 2) 254 km 2015- Modernization
Medellin – Alto de Dolores (Vias del Nus) 157 km 201?- doubling, modernization
Loboguerrero – Buenaventura (Via al Puerto) ? km 201?- doubling, modernization, continuation project 2G
Bucaramanga – Pamplona ? km 201?- Modernization
Pamplona – Cucuta ? km 201?- Modernization, continuation project 2G
Ampliación a tercer carril doble calzada Bogotá – Girardot ? km 201?- Widening 2×3 lanes
Accessos Norte a Bogotá 53 km 201?- upgrade north of Bogotá

5G projects

1st series

Project Length Period of time Weigh Comments
ALO Sur 24 km 30 years New Bogotá.’s new southwest bypass
Accesos Norte Phase II 18 km 29 years Widening Acceso Norte in Bogotá to 2×5 lanes
Nueva Malla Vial del Valle del Cauca 310 km 29 years Cali region, extension of 4G concession
Buga – Buenaventura 127 km 29 years doubling 32 kilometers
Troncal del Magdalena, Corredor 1 259 km 25 years doubling 148 kilometers Puerto Salgar – Barrancabermeja
Troncal del Magdalena, Corredor 2 272 km 25 years doubling 126 kilometers Barrancabermeja – San Roque
Santuario – Cano Alegre 136 km 30 years Modernization

Road numbering

Colombia uses a road numbering system that is identical to the US Highway system of the United States. Odd numbers run north-south and ascend in an easterly direction. Even numbers run east-west and ascend north. The road number plates are also identical. Important north-south routes are Rutas 25 and 45, important east-west routes are Rutas 40 and 50. East-west routes are called “transversales”, and north-south routes are called “troncales”. The current road numbering was introduced in 1995, but many routes were scrapped in 1999.

Colombia Road Network