Framing their vision in terms of patriotism, national security, and economic development, for decades some Chilean politicians have dreamed of completing a land-only road connection to the south of the country. The Carretera Austral, Chile’s “southern road” experiences a roughly 100-kilometer gap south of Hornopirén in Palena Province, a lightly settled region of rugged mountains. That roadless gap is Pumalín Park, the roughly 800,000-acre Nature reserve created by Doug and Kris Tompkins, which stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Argentine border.
Rather than bulldoze and blast a new interior road through one of the Earth last great wilderness areas, many Chilean conservationists have long argued for an alternative, coastal route to enhance motorized travel in Palena Province. A direct, coastal route road with well-run ferry service would link local communities and support tourism while costing taxpayers a small fraction of the cost to build an interior road through Pumalín Park.
While not abandoning the idea of completing an all-land highway at some point, the ministry of public works backed away from its insistence on the interior route in 2009. That shift was precipitated by a natural event as well as economic realities. Since its eruption, the Chaitén Volcano in the heart of Pumalín Park has spewed large amounts of ash across the region; the government’s previously identified interior route would have built the highway right through the affected zone. The 2010 earthquake has also squeezed government budgets as reconstruction of vital transportation infrastructure in the central region of Chile takes top priority. The Palena connectivity campaign is committed continuing its advocacy for a coastal route highway on economic, ecological, and social grounds until the road is completed.
For the latest news on the subject, visit the Conectividad Para Palena website.