Carretera Austral provides road access to Chile's Aysén del General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo Region and southern part of Los Lagos Region. These areas are sparsely populated and despite its length, Carretera Austral provides access to only about 100,000 people. South of the highway's start in Puerto Montt, Coyhaique (population 44,850) is the largest city along it.
Construction of the highway was commenced in 1976 under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in order to connect a number of remote communities. Before that, in the 1950s and 1970s, there had been unsuccessful attempts to build access roads in the region. It is among the most ambitious infrastructure projects developed in Chile during the 20th century.
Carretera Austral has a strategic meaning due to the difficult access by land to a significant portion of Chile's southern territory. This area is characterized by thick forests, fjords, glaciers, canals and steep mountains. Access by sea and air is also a complex task due to extreme winter weather conditions. For decades, most of the land transportation had to cross the border to Argentina in order to reach again Chile's Patagonia. These difficulties were deepened during the 1970s due to the Beagle Conflict crisis. In order to strengthen the Chilean presence in these isolated territories and ensure the land connection to the rest of the country, the government planned the construction of this road, which was executed by the Chilean Army's Engineering Command. More than 10,000 soldiers worked in its construction. Many of them lost their lives during this effort.
The highway opened to traffic in 1988, and by 1996 was completed to Puerto Yungay. The last 100 kilometers (62 mi) to Villa O'Higgins were opened in 2000. In 2003, a branch road to Caleta Tortel was finished.
Places along the highway
- Puerto Montt
- Reloncaví Sound
- Hornopirén National Park
- Yelcho Lake
- Pumalín Park
- Queulat National Park
- Río Ibáñez
- Cerro Castillo
- General Carrera Lake
- Baker River
- Caleta Tortel
- Villa O'Higgins
Traveling the entire route requires the use of three ferries:
- a 30 minute crossing about 45 kilometers (28 mi) south of the start of the highway in Puerto Montt
- a 5 hour crossing from Hornopiren (110 kilometers (68 miles) south of Puerto Montt) to Caleta Gonzalo
- a 50 minute crossing from Puerto Yungay to Rio Bravo, connecting to the final 100 kilometers (62 mi) of the highway.
Tierra del Fuego
|Laguna San Rafael · Los Glaciares
Nahuel Huapi · Torres del Paine
Alberto de Agostini · Tierra del Fuego
Neuquén Province · Río Negro Province
Chubut Province · Santa Cruz Province
Tierra del Fuego Province
The highway began as almost entirely unpaved, but more sections are becoming paved each year. As of 2008, most of the road is still unpaved.
On October 5, 2006, construction of a road between Hornopirén and Chaitén, crossing Pumalín, was announced. The project is estimated to have a cost of some 100 million US Dollars.
There is also a plan to extend the road to Magallanes Region, which still lacks domestic road connection to the rest of Chile. This means constructing a 935-kilometre (581 mi) branch Rio Bravo-Ventisquero Montt-Puerto Natales, with 9 ferry crossings planned. By January 2007, the construction on the Rio Bravo-Ventisquero Montt section had begun, with the branch off point from the main Rio Bravo-Villa O'Higgins road being at .
- "Carretera Austral - Presentacion; in Dirección de Vialidad" (in Spanish). Ministerio de Obras Públicas, Dirección de Vialidad.
- "Census 2002" (in Spanish).
- "History of the Carretera Austral". TurismoChile.com.
- "Carretera Austral". Aisen Bridges Travel.
- "Carretera Austral - Nuevos trazados; in Dirección de Vialidad" (in Spanish). Ministerio de Obras Públicas, Dirección de Vialidad.
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