Troubles plague long-awaited Caldera Highway

December 23, 2010

Year in Review

It took more than three decades – roughly 2.3 kilometers per year – and it’s still far from perfect. But it’s built.

In January, the Costa Rican government opened the long-awaited highway from San José to Caldera, a port town on the central Pacific coast. The 77-km tollway cuts the driving time to the central Pacific coast by 45 minutes.

But the long anticipated highway isn’t without its share of problems too.

Caldera Highway cuts through mountains and hugs steep, jagged slopes. Although Autopistas del Sol, the Spanish company contracted to build and manage the road, reinforced its rocky sides with concrete, landslides and debris continued to make the trip dangerous for drivers. One woman was killed by falling debris while driving on the road.

President Laura Chinchilla temporarily closed the tollway while the company repaired damages. Engineers also worked on a plan to prevent future slides.

Despite the setbacks, the road still stands as quite an accomplishment, considering the difficult terrain it covers. Most Costa Ricans are happy it was finally finished.

 

Municipality versus State Roads

Municipal officials across the country rallied against the National Roadway Council (CONAVI) this year over the unequal distribution of government transportation funds. Almost 80 percent of Costa Rican roads are under municipal management, but local governments only received 25 percent of the national government’s highway budget.

“There is a huge imbalance,” said Alvaro Jiménez, president of the National Union of Local Governments (UNGL).

In August, Jiménez presented a draft bill to Chinchilla and the Legislative Assembly that would split funding evenly between municipalities and CONAVI. The bill would be a good step toward transferring more power to local governments, which is called for by a law passed in May. That law requires municipal governments to oversee at least 10 percent of the national budget.

Transport and Public Works Vice-Minister María Lorena López staunchly defended the current funding distribution formula by saying, “You cannot even begin to compare the importance of national roads to municipal roads.”

A decision on funding redistribution is slated for early 2011.

The vulnerability of Costa Rica’s infrastructure was highlighted at the tail end of this year when ferocious rains from Hurricane Thomas reeked havoc on roads across the country. 

According to the Transportation Ministry (MOPT), the rains damaged some 1,895 km of roads across the country and flooded or collapsed 85 bridges.

Road closings left 40 communities stranded, and emergency officials were forced to airlift supplies to isolated families.

Destruction was so widespread that MOPT has yet to calculate the total cost of damages caused by the storm. Only three days into the storm, the government estimated roadway cleanup and repair would cost $1.6 million.

MOPT also made public a four-year infrastructure plan that includes construction of a 27-km highway connecting Bajos de Chilamate and Vuelta de Kooper in the Limón province on the Caribbean coast. MOPT also secured a $52 million loan from the Andean Promotion Corporation to expand the northwest highway between Cañas and Liberia to four lanes.

The money will also be used to refurbish 29 bridges on the Inter-American North Highway, build a highway in north-central Costa Rica between Sifón, in San Ramón, to La Abundancia in San Carlos, and to improve municipal roads.

MOPT also plans to fix 100 old, rickety wooden bridges scattered across the country with a $375 million credit line from the Inter-American Development Bank, and spend $85 million from the Central American Bank of Economic Integration for improvements to ports in Moín and Limón on the Caribbean coast.

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