Costa Rica road officials were warned in 2006 bridge would collapse

October 23, 2009

TURRUBARES, Costa Rica – The collapse of a bridge last week that resulted in the death of five people could have been avoided had the government taken heed of an engineer´s report carried out in 2006, the report´s commissioner has claimed.

The report, complete with photographs, highlighted a series of structural problems and warned of a possible collapse of the bridge over the Río Tárcoles, on the way to the central Pacific town of Orotina.

The morning of Oct. 22, the report´s predictions became frighteningly real. One of the cables of the bridge snapped under the weight of a full school bus, which fell six meters into the water.

Guillermo Saborio, chairman of Turu Ba Ri Nature and Adventure Park, in conjunction with the Turrubares Municipality, commissioned IMM & Asociados Ltda. to carry out the study after suspecting maintenance of the old bridge was long overdue.

“It was obvious the bridge was in need of attention, it was more than 80 years old,” Saborio said.

“Many of our visitors used to cross that bridge to get to the park, so we, in conjunction with the municipality, paid for an engineer to carry out a survey, which we sent to (the road authorities) CONAVI, but nothing was done about it.”

Despite those warnings in September 2006, the only work carried out on the bridge in the three years until its collapse was the replacement of 200 wooden planks lining the bridge floor, repairs to a left hand support pillar and a reduction in vehicle weight allowance, from nine tones to four.

Annotated pictures of the support cables connected to concrete blocks at either end of the bridge explained how “years of strain caused by heavy vehicles could have caused severe interior damage and could lead to a collapse of the entire structure,” the report contended.

It concluded: “Considering the level of use and nature of the vehicles that cross the bridge have changed considerably in the last few years, we consider necessary the building of a new, two-lane concrete and steel bridge with side barriers and space for pedestrians.”

Following the bridge´s collapse, the Public Works and Transport Ministry called on a Japanese technical expert who will supervise the repair of 10 Costa Rican bridges, earmarked as “priority,” throughout the country.

The expert, experienced in the design of steel and concrete bridges, will be working with engineers starting next year.

See the Oct. 30 print or digital edition of The Tico Times in-depth coverage and analysis.

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