SANTIAGO, June 13 (Reuters) - Chilean presidential frontrunner Sebastian Pinera presented on Tuesday a $7.5 billion plan to overhaul the country's transportation infrastructure, a move sure to be welcomed by the dozens of companies operating in the rail and highway sectors.
Pinera, a conservative billionaire leading in the polls for Chile's November election, said his government would replace an urban transport plan initiated 10 years ago under a center-left government. That plan, known as Transantiago, has grown extremely unpopular due to perceived inefficiencies, despite hundreds of millions of dollars in investment.
"After 10 years, Transantiago didn't complete its mission or its promise," Pinera said at a campaign event broadcast on television.
Pinera said his plan, known as "Third Millennium," will involve construction of 135 kilometers (83.9 miles) of new metropolitan rail in capital city Santiago, including three new subway lines, and extension of an existing line to the city's airport.
The plan, to be funded by a mix of concessions to private companies and public funds, would also involve replacing Santiago's urban bus system and constructing surface trains and new tramways in secondary Chilean cities.
President Michelle Bachelet, the current center-left office holder who cannot run for reelection, is pushing an infrastructure buildout of her own. In her annual state-of-the-union speech this month, Bachelet pledged to begin work on a $2.9 billion subway line, and the ministry of public works is set to award a major $800 million Santiago highway contract in July.
Spanish and Italian companies such as Sacyr, OHL , Astaldi, and Atlantia have typically been the most important firms in Chilean infrastructure, though a number of Chinese firms have expressed interest in building highway and rail lines in the nation in recent months. (Reporting by Antonio de la Jara; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by David Gregorio)