For generations, residents of a Colombian town on a steep hillside have staggered up hundreds of large steps – the equivalent of a 28-story building – to go from one town to another.

But public officials of Medellín, the country’s second largest city, came up with an innovative way to get them home: a giant, outdoor public escalator.

This gargantuan escalator, said to be the first of its kind in the world, will shorten a 35-minute hike on foot up the hillside to six minutes. It will be used by residents of Medellín’s tough Comuna 13, a shantytown with a population of 12,000.

"It turned out very well," said Mayor Alonso Salazar, adding that he has not heard of any such project elsewhere in this world.

Salazar said officials from Rio de Janeiro plan to visit Medellín to see if such an escalator would work in that city's favelas, which also cling precariously to hillsides.

Comuna 13 residents came out to celebrate and study the $6.7 million escalator. Use of the escalator is free.

"This is a dream come true," homemaker Olga Holguin told RCN television.

César Hernández, head of projects for Medellín, said the electric stairway is divided into six sections and has a length of 384 meters (1,260 feet). An escalator goes up and a second goes down. Authorities plan to build a covering for inclement whether.

Salazar described Comuna 13 as the city's district that has "suffered the greatest urban violence... but lately this has been receding and we hope this social package will help it move forward."

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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