San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Rains Shut Down Major Roads to Pacific Coast

Heavy rains paralyzed the transit system in the country, closing roads throughout the Central Valley and Pacific coasts this week.

The main highway running the spine the country – the Inter-American – was shut down on Wednesday as crews worked to clear a mudslide near San Ramón at the western end of the Central Valley. The new highway to Pacific port of Caldera was also closed, pushing all traffic to the Pacific onto the old road through Atenas, known as Monte del Aguacate. At press time Thursday, both Caldera and the Inter-American remained closed.

During the height of crisis on Wednesday, the Public Works and Transport Ministry issued a statement saying that it “intensified efforts to attend to the number of mudslides in recent hours,” but rain continued to dampen any hopes of a quick reopening of the roads.

Asked at a press conference whether infrastructure deficiencies were at the root of these problems or if these were more a result of abnormal weather conditions, Public Works and Transport Minister Francisco Jiménez responded, “Both can be considered origins of the problem, but what the rain does is point out our inadequate management of our infrastructure.”

Just regarding bridges, he said, the country is staring at a $20 billion deficit in needed construction and maintenance.

Even Costa Rica’s newest highway to Caldera has presented serious problems. On Tuesday, a day before the highway closed, President Laura Chinchilla called for an investigation of the modern roadway.

She said she wanted an evaluation of the project’s management to ensure that contractors complied with the terms of their agreements. She asked that the tolls – which have been criticized as too high and frequent – be aligned with the level of service and that pressure be placed on the highway’s private administration to adopt measures to ensure travelers’ safety.

“We would like to know whether there have been deficiencies or noncompliance (with the contract),” Chinchilla said at a Tuesday press conference. “The government is looking to ensure that the concessionaire complies rigorously with all the obligations under the concession contract, based on legal considerations, technicalities and public interest.”

The private company contracted to build and operate the highway, Autopistas del Sol, confirmed almost immediately their willingness to discuss the project. However, they also quickly ruled out the possibility of cheaper tolls – save for quarterly adjustments such as the ₡10 (2 cents) reduction at the toll in the western San José suburb of Escazú scheduled for today.

“It’s important to remember that the established tolls are necessary to recover the investment made by the concessionaire,” said Cristian Sandoval, general director of the concession for Autopistas del Sol.

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