MANAGUA – Over the last several years, hackneyedtales of Nicaragua’s elusive, yet-to-be-built Pacific coasthighway – or Carretera Costanera – have been based moreon hopeful fantasy than fact.The highway has become the chimera of the real-estateworld, something people whisper about in the private confinesof their homes but don’t discuss much in public, forfear of being exposed as gullible or hallucinatory.But hear ye: she be real.THE 131-kilometer tourism highway has officiallyentered into the nine-month design and planning stage,which is being funded by an $800,000 loan from theCentral American Economic Integration Bank.Construction is scheduled to begin early next year. And,if all goes according to the Ministry of Transport andInfrastructure’s (MTI) timetable, the two-lane highway willbe opened in 2008.The highway, according to preliminary blueprintsobtained by The Tico Times, will parallel Nicaragua’sPacific coast from Masachapa in the north to Los Mojoneson the Costa Rican border, southeast of Peñas Blancas, nearPunta Salinas.Costa Rican authorities, meanwhile, reportedly arestudying the possibility of extending the paved coastalhighway further south to the northern town of La Cruz,Costa Rica’s last stop on the Inter-American Highwaybefore the Nicaraguan border.The prospect – albeit preliminary – of extending theroad into Costa Rica creates the possibility of opening anew border crossing with Nicaragua.BUT all that is several years (at least) into the future.And those who are dubious the project will ever be christenedhave history to justify their dubiety.Nicaragua first started studying the prospect of constructingthe Pacific coast highway in the 1940s, as theoriginal proposed route for the Inter-American Highway. Itwas judged infeasible, and the current route was chosen,paralleling the western shore of Lake Nicaragua.Since then, technology has improved and motives havechanged.In 2002, the Costanera project was again thawed andbrought back to life – this time for tourism.NICARAGUA’S Pacific coast is booming with development,anchored by the popular beach town, San Juan delSur, which attracts close to 300,000 tourists per year.A total of nine major tourism attractions now line thecoast that, in the words of MTI’s planning director ErnestoTéllez, “make you forget you’re in Nicaragua.”The tourism developments are, from north to south:Masachapa, Pochomil, La Boquita, Casares, Huehuete,Astillero, Brito, San Juan del Sur and Ostional. Nicaragua’sPacific coast attracts 646,000 tourists annually, justifying atourism highway to connect the dots, according to the government.“There is enormous potential in this cluster of tourism,”said Téllez, who is overseeing the design and planningstage of the Costanera. “The new highway will continue tohelp development along the coast.”According to Téllez, the Costanera will not be a high- velocity highway but more of a scenictourist drive.REAL-estate agents claim the highway– regardless of its speed limit – willaccelerate the appreciation of neighboringproperty values.“It’ll put the prices sky high,” said real estatemainstay Sandy Perkoff of GranadaReal Estate. “Sixty-thousand-dollar lotswill jump to $100,000, and $100,000 lotswill jump to $150,000. This highway willhave the same effect on the Pacific coast asthe new Managua-Granada highway ishaving on real-estate values in Granada.”Perkoff said that while everyone knowsabout the proposed Pacific coast highway,it hasn’t affected prices yet, and probablywon’t until the government formalizes aconcession or the construction crew breaksground.THE highway will have to bypass twocoastal nature reserves, and the exact routeis still being determined with considerationto which properties it will have to traverse.The MTI admits it will most likelyhave to pay indemnification to some privatelandowners. This is a serious considerationin the planning of the highway,whose construction will cost an estimated$47 million.The project will also include the pavingof several other already existing dirt roads,or roads in current disrepair, connectingthe Costanera to the Inter-AmericanHighway.When all is said and done, the highwaywill hopefully give southernNicaragua the road infrastructure it needsto lure Guanacaste’s real-estate boomacross the border.