Yet another bridge fiasco

November 9, 2012

A temporary Bailey bridge that collapsed this week on one of Costa Rica’s most-transited highways will cost some $1.5 million a day in losses to public and private sectors. 

The bridge is located on the General Cañas Highway, which connects downtown San José with Alajuela and the Juan Santamaría International Airport. It collapsed Tuesday afternoon when a privately owned 50-ton crane crossed the bridge in southbound traffic. The bridge and crane crashed down on the site where government workers are repairing a large section of the highway that washed out in June during a storm.  

On Thursday, workers from a private Colombian company worked to extract the crane. 

Experts from the University of Costa Rica’s Structural Materials and Models National Laboratory held the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) responsible for the collapsed bridge, saying Bailey bridges “are a temporary solution for two months maximum, and this one has been functioning for four.”

On Wednesday, Communications Minister Francisco Chacón announced a series of emergency measures including the suspension Friday and Monday of school classes in several cantons in the provinces of Alajuela, Heredia and San José. Chacón said repairs would be carried out 24 hours a day to re-establish transit through the area by next Tuesday.

Meanwhile, traffic in the area turned to chaos, and some 150 Traffic Police officers were assigned to the highway and on alternate routes to deal with the mess. 

The highway is one of the busiest in Costa Rica, and traffic heading in the direction of San José from the province of Alajuela is being rerouted. 

The opposite lane, from San José to Alajuela, remains open. 

The maximum weight a Bailey bridge can hold is 40 tons, according to reports from the National Roadway Council. The council is denying responsibility for the collapse, saying the crane should never have been on that highway in the first place due to its weight.

Photos of the bridge show the large red crane, with the company’s name Grúas Quirós emblazoned on the vehicle, stuck in the middle of the sunken bridge. The driver of the crane was uninjured in the accident. 

A construction vehicle under the bridge was crushed by the collapse. That construction vehicle held up part of the bridge and prevented the structure from collapsing completely. 

By Thursday afternoon, workers had successfully removed the fallen crane, and were assessing the damage to a newly constructed tunnel below the highway. Workers likely will have to add more concrete to support the structure, then determine whether the bridge is salvageable, or a new structure must be put in place.

“We hope that the owner of the [crane] company will pay for this. The state will not cover it,” MOPT Minister Pedro Castro told local Radio Reloj.

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