San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Study points to shoddy work on border road

President Laura Chinchilla’s border-road woes continued to grow this week.

On Wednesday, the president acknowledged mistakes and mismanagement of the 160-kilometer, $44 million Route 1856 along Río San Juan, which forms the border with Nicaragua. The president made the statements from Geneva, Switzerland, on the last day of a European tour, according a report by the daily La Nación.

While acknowledging the problems the road has faced with alleged corruption by officials, Chinchilla pledged to openly disclose all details about the project and insisted work should continue.

“Our intention is to clarify everything, that everything is out in the public light, that no doubt remains about our intentions and the procedures that were behind the construction of the road, and that if it is necessary to recognize errors or to adjust procedures, that it is done,” Chinchilla said, according to La Nación.

Since October 2010, Costa Rica and Nicaragua have bickered over the border region along the Río San Juan after Costa Rica complained about Nicaraguan dredging of the river. Accusations of environmental damage have flown back and forth across the river and armed personnel were sent to the region by both countries (TT, March 11, 2011).

A January 2011 occupation of Isla Calero, on the northeastern Caribbean coast, by Nicaraguan troops prompted Costa Rica cries of an armed invasion, and in March of that year, the International Court of Justice ordered both countries to remove armed personnel from the area.

Chinchilla declared building the road to be a national emergency, saying the project would bring services and security to some 2,500 families in the remote border region of Costa Rica. The emergency decree allowed the project to be put into high gear and obviated the legal requirements for environmental impact studies that other public works must have before beginning construction (TT, Feb. 24).

This week, the National Structural Materials and Models Laboratory (Lanamme) at the University of Costa Rica released an analysis of the road’s engineering, according to La Nación. The analysis found that shoddy work on the road’s drainage systems could leave the road in danger of collapsing during the current rainy season. Also, the Lanamme analysis indicated that the threat of collapse would lead to “a substantial loss of the investment made up to this point.”

The daily Diario Extra also detailed some of Lanamme’s findings: The road’s drainage system is almost collapsed; 15-meter slopes were cut along the sides of the road; wide road cuts were made to mountainous areas; clay, not preferable for construction works, was used; planning and topographical studies were almost nonexistent; and oversized rocks, which are difficult to compress, were used.

In its ongoing investigation into mismanagement of the project, La Nación also revealed this week that the National Roadway Council secretly spent some ₡6 billion ($12 million) contracting machinery without going through a public bidding process to work on the project between December 2010 and March 2011.

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