San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Engineer’s Report Warned Of Bridge Dangers

The bridge collapse and subsequent death of five people could have been avoided had the government taken heed of an engineer’s report in 2006, according to those who commissioned the report.

The nine-page report highlighted a series of structural faults, warned that the bridge was at risk of collapse and called for a concrete-and-steel structure to replace the wooden hammock-style bridge that finally fell into the Río Tárcoles on Oct.19.

Guillermo Saborio, chairman of Turu Ba Ri Nature and AdventurePark, in conjunction with the TurrubaresMunicipality, commissioned the Cartago-based engineering firm IMM & Asociados Ltda. to study the bridge to determine if their suspicions that the bridge was a danger to the public were correct.

“It was obvious the bridge was in need of attention, it was more than 80 years old. It was an accident waiting to happen,” Saborio said. “Many of our employees and 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 National Roadway Council (CONAVI), but it was just ignored.”

The three-year-old survey’s annotated photographs of the steel support cables screwed into concrete blocks at either end of the bridge warned that “years of strain caused by heavy vehicles are likely to have caused severe interior damage and could lead to a collapse of the entire structure.”

Referring to the general maintenance of the bridge’s components, the report identified varying levels of corrosion that should have been attended to as a matter of “vital importance.”

The report concluded by saying, “Bearing in mind that the level of use and nature of the vehicles that cross the bridge has changed considerably in the last few years, we consider the building of a new, two-lane concrete-and-steel bridge with side barriers and space for pedestrians to be necessary.”

Despite the report being sent to the government 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 tons to four.

“The bridge collapsed because the suspension cable snapped under the weight of the bus,” according to Rodrigo Saborio, operations director at Turu Ba Ri. “If you look carefully at the snapped cables, you will see they were painted. This is the worst thing you can do to a cable because moisture gets in between the cracks of the paint and into the metal, and then it can’t escape. This causes rust to set in and the cable to weaken.”

Saborio said that Turu Ba Ri has a one-km cable for its canopy tour that must be maintained twice a year – “not once in 80 years.”

The fallout from the accident has been widely felt at the adventure park, popular with tourists and companies on team-building activities.

One of the employees lost a father in the accident, while the remaining 95 workers don’t have much to do since visitor numbers are down more than 60 percent.

“The majority of our visitors come down from Puntarenas and Caldera, but now aren’t bothering because the bridge access isn’t available, and they don’t fancy making the two-hour detour,” said the operations director. “Without that bridge we are cut off, and we stand to lose $50,000 in November.

“The government says it will have a new bridge up in three weeks, but as we have seen, we just can’t trust politicians. We are hoping that the forthcoming elections will force them to keep their word.”

–Sean O’Hare



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