San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Infrastructure Problems Festered All Year Long

Costa Rica’s infrastructure problems have always been the butt of national jokes, but as construction boomed in 2007 the humor was lost on many.

Pothole-ridden highways, increasingly crowded airports, dangerously inadequate sewage treatment, nonexistent sidewalks, half-finished pedestrian bridges and illegal construction made headlines this year.

In a movement symbolic of the neverending clash between developers and the country’s environmental laws, Playa Hermosa residents, on the country’s central Pacific coast, protested vehemently when developers announced plans to erect a pair of 12-story towers on this well-known surfing and turtle-nesting beach.

Farther north, similar development scandals festered – including the case of an Italian investor,Alessandro Malaguti,who, in a series of allegedly mysterious deals, obtained a concession for beachfront land that belonged to the central government, prompting a series of investigations that revealed a lack of control, and often confusion at nearly all levels.

When a water shortage, prompted by over-development and poor planning, erupted in the beach communities of Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, locals cried foul, calling for a building moratorium to slow the onslaught.

As always, roads made headlines, too, and not just for their axle-swallowing potholes.

Dry weather – which extended later than normal this year, led to infernally dusty roads around Nosara that coated the hotels and lungs of tourists and residents alike.

Paved results were promised, but none delivered. Maybe next year.

Wet weather also wreaked havoc during the wetter-than-normal rainy season, flooding towns and washing out dozens of bridges and roads, first on the Caribbean slope and later on the Pacific. Potholes doubled in size, too.

A Japanese aid agency-sponsored study of the country’s bridges determined that a vast percentage were outdated, and potentially dangerous, prompting concerns among the populous – and a new national plan at the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) to modernize the nation’s bridges.

The last straw, agreed environmentalists and tourism officials alike, came late in the year, when the Costa Rican Water and Sewage Institute (AyA) revealed that fecal contamination in Tamarindo’s once-pristine ocean waters had reached 7,000 times the limit considered acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Many of the country’s growing pains, centered around coastal areas and in the Central Valley suburbs, prompted calls for moratoriums.

In the municipalities of Osa, in the Southern Zone, Escazú and Belén in the Central Valley, and in Playas del Coco, in the northwest province of Guanacaste, citizens and sometimes government officials, including Osa Mayor Jorge Cole, called for building moratoriums to halt development until sustainable zoning plans could be put in place.

While none of the plans were approved by year’s end, many heralded the movements as a necessary, and first, step in the right direction.

As part of a city beautification process designed to bring people back into San José, a number of proposals surfaced, including a series of high-rise towers overlooking the wooded SabanaPark.

Two marinas broke ground this year – one in Golfito and another in Quepos, while similar projects in Flamingo and Limón continued to languish in indecision and bureaucratic red tape.

And as with every year, new promises were made.

First, President Oscar Arias promised a quickening pace of international airport plans in the Southern Zone, near Dominical.

And after 30 years of delays, setbacks and missed deadlines, the government announced that work on the long-awaited highway from San José to the central Pacific port city of Caldera, through Ciudad Colón and Orotina, will begin early next year.

To be continued…


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