Chinese, European companies express interest in Chile-Argentina tunnel

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Ten consortiums including companies from China and Europe formally expressed interest on Wednesday in building a landmark $1.5 billion tunnel under the Andes mountains to connect Argentina and Chile.

Chinese companies Power China and the Chinese Communications Construction Company, Spain’s OHL and FCC, and Italy’s Astaldi and Salini Impregilo are among the interested parties, Chile’s minister of public works Alberto Undurraga said.

The planned Agua Negra tunnel would be over 13 kilometers (8 miles) in length and would connect Chile’s Coquimbo region with the Argentine province of San Juan, both mining regions. The tunnel would be able to operate year round, unlike existing cross-border roads that pass over the Andes and often must close during winter snowstorms.

Both Chile and Argentina are revamping their infrastructure, drawing interest from Asian companies for the first time. Infrastructure in the area has traditionally been dominated by Spanish and Italian companies.

On Tuesday, Chile said it received five offers to build a new highway in Santiago, including the first bid by a Chinese company for a metropolitan highway concession in Latin America.

Building the tunnel would be an ambitious and complex project that would likely take more than 10 years to complete, Argentine Transport Planning Secretary German Bussi said at the event.

The tender for the project is due to start in September or October, said Undurraga.

Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Gram Slattery, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and David Gregorio