Early Saturday morning, thick orange barriers with blinking yellow lights were placed across the Caldera Highway, closing an 11-kilometer stretch – between the towns of Atenas and Orotina – of the five-month-old highway. The closure, which blocks kilometers 37 through 48 of the 77-kilometer road between San José and the Pacific port of Caldera, comes in response to heightened scrutiny over insecure conditions on the road as heavy rain resulted in several mudslides during the past few weeks. Since its opening on Jan. 27, mudslides and falling rocks have been responsible for several injuries and one death on the highway.
Last week, calls for a temporary closure of the highway heated up when a report by the Costa Rican Association of Engineers and Architects stated that “urgent intervention” was needed to improve the road. The report said that “It is only a question of time before a mass of materials drops onto the highway (near Atenas)” (TT June 11, 2010). President Laura Chinchilla responded to the report by declaring that repairs to the highway “should be considered.”
On Friday afternoon, pressure to close the highway forced Autopistas del Sol, the private firm that built much of the road and is responsible for its operation, to announce the temporary closure.
“Autopistas del Sol demonstrated its willingness to close certain stretches of the road when the users were faced with situations of risk,” the company said in a statement. “At this time, according to our technical, financial and legal information, it is not opportune to close; however, we are going to proceed with the agreement as instructed.”
In the interim, drivers will be re-routed through the Monte de Aguacate highway, the old passage between Orotina and Atenas. This windy, winding, narrow road for much of the country’s history was the primary route to the Pacific from the Central Valley. The statement released by Autopistas del Sol said that they hoped the roadway would be fixed in the “short term”.
For more on the history and troubled first months of the Caldera Highway, see the June 19 print or digital edition of The Tico Times.