New highway to connect landlocked regions of South America to the Pacific Ocean

Paraguay finished the first link of the transcontinental highway

Today's expression: Work on
Explore more: Lesson #470
May 23, 2022:

A new highway will connect the landlocked regions of South America to the Pacific Ocean, and the first link from Paraguay was just completed. South America produces a lot of the world’s food, and the highway will help speed up exports. But not everyone is on board. The highway also threatens areas of forest and indigenous culture. Plus, learn “work on.”

Take control of your English

Use active strategies to finally go from good to great

Listen

  • Learning speed
  • Full speed

Learn

TranscriptActivitiesDig deeperYour turn
No translationsEspañol中文FrançaisPortuguês日本語ItalianoDeutschTürkçePolski

A new highway across the middle of South America

Lesson summary

Hi there everyone, I’m Jeff and this is Plain English, where we help you upgrade your English with current events and trending topics. JR is the producer and he has uploaded this full lesson to PlainEnglish.com/470.

Coming up today: The vast interior of South America produces much of the world’s soybeans and beef. But due to its rugged terrain and remoteness, there are few roads connecting it to the ports of the Pacific Ocean. That is changing, however, as Paraguay finished the first link in a transcontinental highway.

In the second half of today’s lesson, I’ll show you how to use the phrasal verb “work on” and we have a quote of the week, from the fashion industry. Let’s get going.

Paraguay carves a route to the Pacific

South America is a vast continent with sprawling cities and many distinct cultures. But the biggest South American cities have something in common . Caracas, Bogotá, Quito, Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro: they’re all not far from the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.

The vast interior of South America is best known for the Amazon region. But it also produces a lot of the world’s food. Brazil is the world’s number one exporter of soybeans; Argentina and landlocked Paraguay are numbers three and four. Brazil also leads the world in beef exports.

Most of these exports leave the region from Brazilian ports on the Atlantic Ocean. There’s just one problem: the countries that want soybeans and beef aren’t on the Atlantic Ocean. The demand these days comes from the other side, the Pacific side. But there are few roads connecting the soybean- and cattle-producing regions of Brazil and Paraguay with the Pacific coast.

If you look at a map of the area, you’ll see a relatively well-developed crisscrossing network of roads in the Brazilian state of Mato Gross do Sul. But the roads stop at the Paraguay River; there is no way to continue westward.

So today , even ships destined for the Pacific have to leave from Atlantic ports. Those ships have to sail north, cross the Panama Canal, and then continue to Asia.

But it might not be that way for long . A massive new infrastructure project is underway to connect the interior of South America with the Pacific ports in Chile. It’s called the Bioceanic Corridor. This is a joint project among Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile, and Paraguay’s government completed the first section early this year.

The road will extend 544 kilometers (about 338 miles) through the isolated Gran Chaco region. To the east, a new bridge across the Paraguay River will connect the Bioceanic Road to Brazil. To the west, Argentina and Chile are expanding existing highways. There’s space for a freight rail corridor alongside the road. When the road is done, it will save the region’s exporters time and money. A container will cost one-third less to ship, and will arrive in Asia two weeks sooner, compared with shipping via the Atlantic.

For better or for worse , the road will change the Gran Chaco region. The region makes up two-thirds of the land area in Paraguay, but is home to just three percent of the country’s population. Until 2019, a region the size of Austria had no paved roads at all. When it rained, truckers would get stuck in the mud for days; they brought rifles to hunt their own food while they waited. Some buses passed through the region. But if buses broke down , passengers had to be airlifted out. There was no reliable way for people in the area to access hospitals or medical care.

So the road will bring development to the area, speed up travel times, and improve safety. But it threatens the region’s culture and wildlife. Indigenous leaders worry that the road, and the services alongside it, will bring drugs, alcohol, and crime. Many of the indigenous Ayoreo people live along the road’s path and aren’t used to trucks speeding by. There have already been accidents. The region is also home to a small number of people who voluntarily isolate from civilization. This isn’t going to be good for them.

Even before construction began, the Chaco region had been losing more forest, relative to its size, than any other forest on earth. Ranchers burn forest illegally to get more space for grazing; enforcement of the law in this area is spotty at best. This looks set to accelerate as the road develops. This forest is where local indigenous tribes hunt for food and gather fruit and honey. Now, some indigenous people in the area are afraid to go out alone out of fear that they’ll be attacked by people associated with the new road.

Without proper protection, the region’s wildlife will also be threatened by speeding trucks. Some worry that endangered jaguars and others will be illegally hunted. The road will use fifteen wildlife crossings , which will help mitigate the problem, but not solve it. The path has also been modified to accommodate indigenous people.

The road construction across the Gran Chaco region is half complete. The bridge to Brazil is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year, and the full corridor is expected to be open and operational in 2023. Paraguay is also widening a north-south route that connects to neighboring Bolivia. The governments of Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile are working on one integrated customs and immigration process, so east-west truckers don’t have to follow four sets of rules in transit.

Totally remote

This area is so remote. If you look on Google Maps, you’ll see names of towns and villages in Paraguay and no roads—even on the satellite view, you see only dirt roads and just a handful of homes in each village. I think the road is probably necessary, but I hope the government of Paraguay finds a way to protect the people who live nearby and conserve the area near the highway.

Great stories make learning English fun

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

Starter feature

We speak your language

Learn English words faster with instant, built-in translations of key words into your language

QuizListeningPronunciationVocabularyGrammar

Free Member Content

Join free to unlock this feature

Get more from Plain English with a free membership


Starter feature

Test your listening skills

Make sure you’re hearing every word. Listen to an audio clip, write what you hear, and get immediate feedback


Starter feature

Upgrade your pronunciation

Record your voice, listen to yourself, and compare your pronunciation to a native speaker’s

Starter feature

Sharpen your listening

Drag the words into the correct spot in this interactive exercise based on the Plain English story you just heard


Starter feature

Improve your grammar

Practice choosing the right verb tense and preposition based on real-life situations



Free Member Content

Join free to unlock this feature

Get more from Plain English with a free membership

Plus+ feature

Practice sharing your opinion

Get involved in this story by sharing your opinion and discussing the topic with others

Expression: Work on