COSTA Ricans can look forward to amore efficient shipping system and afaster trip to the beach if two projects,both mere steps away from approval afteryears of delays, are approved by theComptroller General of the Republic.The first project entails building ahighway linking the western CentralValley suburb of Ciudad Colón and thePacific-slope town of Orotina. Combinedwith other highway improvements, theroad would ultimately create a directroute between San José and the Pacificport of Caldera.This would not only cut driving timeto the coast for beachgoers, but also allowexports to more quickly arrive at the portand imports to more quickly arrive inconsumers’ hands.In the second project, the port wouldundergo a $36 million expansion andmodernization. Two concession contractsthat would turn operation and renovationof the port over to two private companiesfor 20 years were presented last week tothe comptroller for approval.The improvements include wideningthe general dock and building a new dockspecialized in bulk cargo such as grains,steel and cars. The new dock is expectedto reduce unloading time by at least fourdays (from the current 12-day average).A third concession contract to providetugboat sevice at Caldera will be sent tothe comptroller for approval in the comingdays, according to the Ministry ofPublic Works and Transportation(MOPT).The road to Caldera, as it has becomeknown, is a $150 million plan more thanthree decades in the making (TT, Jan. 23,2004). In November, Covisa, a consortiumof Canadian firms, backed out of itsconcession to complete the project.Since then, another consortium,Autopistas del Sol, has stepped forwardand asked that the concession be ceded toit. The National Concessions Council willnow determine whether it will allow the25-year concession to be transferred, officialsannounced last week. If the councilapproves the transfer, it will then solicitapproval from the comptroller.Some companies in the new consortiumalso form part of the consortium thatwas recently awarded a concession towiden the 68-km stretch of the Inter-American Highway from San José northwestto San Ramón, reducing travel timebetween the two cities by 45 minutes duringrush hour. Construction of this projectis expected to begin in April 2006 and becompleted by May 2008.