Chinchilla looks for way out of highway row

August 13, 2014

The administration of President Laura Chinchilla turned to dialogue Tuesday as a way to stamp out the fires of public discontent over a highway expansion project to San Ramón, on the western edge of the Central Valley.

The president promised not to move forward on a concession with Brazilian company OAS for expansion of the San José-San Ramón Highway, a 57-kilometer stretch of road leading northwest from the capital, until an agreement is reached.

Roadway expansion work was set to begin in September, but public protests forced the administration to postpone their plans.

But despite the government’s willingness to discuss the issue, no specific solutions have been put forward, as most of the concession was finalized without public input. Local residents who would have to use the highway would pay $8 in round-trip tolls if the $524 million project moved forward.

“The government has focused its efforts on responding to the concerns and listening to the points of view of various actors,” Communications Minister Francisco Chacón said on Tuesday. “The president has taken charge of the situation, and it’s an issue that she’s being very careful with.”

Officials hope to find a solution that will meet their goal of renovating and expanding the route to cut down on travel time, while avoiding a $35 million fine the government said it would incur if the contract with OAS is broken.

On Tuesday, Chinchilla removed Public Works and Transport Minister Pedro Castro from negotiations over the concession, a measure aimed at appeasing opponents after it surfaced that Castro had worked as a paid consultant for OAS on the project.

Alajuela residents, however, called Castro’s removal a “smokescreen.”

“Pedro Castro isn’t the enemy, the concession is,” Nuria Badilla, a resident who would be affected by the proposed tolls, told crhoy.com.

A group of residents opposed to the project called the “Foro de Occidente” (Western Forum) announced on their Facebook page they would meet Tuesday night to plan an upcoming demonstration against the concession.

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