Thousands of kilometers of roads around Costa Rica have lacked maintenance for nearly two years, and with gaping potholes at every turn, the neglect shows. But President Abel Pacheco, with only three months left in his administration, this week claimed the neglect has come to an end.
Pacheco and Minister of Public Works and Transport Randall Quirós announced Monday that seven construction companies have been awarded three-year contracts to maintain 4,500 kilometers of national roads.
The initial investment for this maintenance will be $36 million and could reach as much as $100 million, according to Alejandro Molina, director of the National Roadway Council (CONAVI), which manages the nation’s roadway funds.
The companies will fill potholes, repave roads with asphalt or concrete and rehabilitate bridges – jobs that have not been done with regular vigilance in some parts of the country since the last contracts expired two years ago and in other parts of the country, namely the northwest province of Guanacaste, for even longer.
While Costa Ricans have been complaining about the terrible state of Costa Rican roads for years – to the point that professional drivers are threatening road blocks if improvements aren’t made – Pacheco seems determined to leave a different legacy before he leaves office May 8. Quirós told the press that by the end of his administration, “these roads will be drivable, and not just with a simple asphalt cap.”
The last maintenance contracts were awarded in early 2001, and expired three years later. And one company abandoned its contracts to maintain Guanacaste and the central Pacific before they expired. The problems were further exacerbated by six weeks of nearly continuous rain on the Pacific coast starting in September 2005. Quirós said last November that the storms, as well as an earthquake in 2004, are to blame for the worst infrastructure crisis the country has seen in 30 years (TT, Dec. 23, 2005).
Under the new maintenance contracts, the companies are “responsible for preserving, in a continued and sustained manner, the good state of roads, in order to guarantee optimum service to the user,”but they are not required to construct new roads or reconstruct existing roads, according to a CONAVI statement.
A total of 22 contracts were awarded to the seven companies, with most going to the companies Santa Fe, Ltda. and Meco, S.A.
The latter will maintain the paved roads in northern Guanacaste, which boasts some of the country’s most damaged roads. The paved roads of the Nicoya Peninsula – also very neglected – will be maintained by Sanchez Carvajal S.A.
While the initial investment is set at $36 million, further funds are dependant on future CONAVI budgets. By law, CONAVI is funded entirely by a percentage of gas and auto taxes – amounting to approximately ¢54 billion ($109 million) annually for national road maintenance and construction, according to Quirós.However, the Finance Ministry has refused for more than five years to turn over this full amount.
Under order from the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV), the Finance Ministry did turn over extra funds late last year. CONAVI was able to put these funds to immediate use by working with the National Emergency Commission (CNE).
The commission has helped award ¢5.5 billion ($11 million) in contracts for emergency repairs to severely damaged roads. This includes repaving, regraveling and filling potholes on 303 stretches of roads damaged in the September rains. Work began in Guanacste Saturday, and other projects around the country will begin this week and next.
By declaring Costa Rica’s roadways a national emergency, the CNE was able to bypass the normal lengthy contract approval process for road repair.
For example, after months of negotiation, the 22 new maintenance contracts were published this week in the official government daily La Gaceta. The contracts are now open for public comments for several weeks until they are finalized in the first week in February. They will then be turned over to the Comptroller General of the Republic, who will have a month to review the contracts. If all goes well, CONAVI can issue work orders in March.
While many in the tourism sector had hoped the roads would be repaired by this high season, which began in December, Molina said instead they can have faith that the CNE repairs will soon make roads at least passable without dodging potholes and mile-long traffic jams. The tourism sector will have to wait until next high season for the roads to be in good condition, he said.
On the cantonal level, a ¢100 million ($200,000) investment has allowed for the construction of six bridges in Guanacaste – including two in Abangares, one in Nicoya and three in Santa Cruz, the daily La Nación reported.
The projects were made possible through an agreement between the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT) and the German Bank of Reconstruction and Promotion (KFW), which helps communities with road maintenance and repair.