Entrepreneurs, Political Conflicts, and Development of Transport Infrastructure: The Case of Wagon Roads in Colombia

Xavier Duran Amorocho

The first overland transport revolution, wagon and turnpike roads, led to transport productivity gains and positive externalities on the rest of the economy in Europe and the US. But Andean countries used arrieria roads, similar to mule-pack roads, as a major intercity transport mode even up to early 20th century. Why didn’t Andean countries use the wagon roads? A relatively unknown and unique case of a wagon road built in Colombia, the Cambao road, connecting Bogota to the Magdalena River, the main transport artery in Colombia helps to answer this question. Government sources and press archival material are examined. The paper documents the activities of entrepreneurs who proposed wagon road projects on this route, 1854-1888; the political decision to build the wagon road and the conflicts and difficulties faced by the entrepreneurs during construction, 1888-1893; and the traffic during the initial years. The road was not delayed because Colombia’s geography was too difficult to build a wagon road, but because transport demand was only growing slowly and some politicians faced the threat of losing future political power as the road changed future economic and political relative power between regions.