New Coast Highway to Open

January 22, 2010

The inauguration of the long-awaited highway between San José and Caldera, on the central Pacific, will be Wednesday, Jan. 27.

The Ministry of Public Works (MOPT) confirmed the date – which marks the completion of more than 30 years of planning and comes two months sooner than expected – on Thursday.

Traveling the 77-kilometer stretch – which begins at the Gimnasio Nacional in La Sabana Metropolitan Park, west of San José, and ends at the port of Caldera – will take only 45 to 50 minutes, officials say, less than half of the approximately two hours the trip requires on the old route. The toll will be ¢2,000 ($3.62) total each way for cars.

On Wednesday night, however, MOPT Minister Marco Vargas said he will not open the toll booth in Ciudad Colón unless necessary because of pressure from drivers in Santa Ana and Ciudad Colón who have objected to be ¢160 ($0.29) toll to travel between the two the towns. MOPT will increase the tolls at other booths to make up the revenue.

The road includes 14 new bridges that cut through the mountains, unlike the current tortuous road that climbs steep mountainsides and weaves around sharp bends. The middle phase of the project, which passes La Guácima, Siquirres and Turrucares, is home to a new operations center with space for ambulances, fire fighting equipment, tow trucks and a Transit Police station. Emergency telephones and a rest stop line the route.

The highway between Orotina and Caldera where bridges have been widened and reinforced, widens from two lanes to four. Construction of this final phase, however, did not come without a few speed bumps.

In September 2009, the Environmental Tribunal froze work along this section because of concerns over suspected environmental damage. In May 2009, work crews with Autopistas del Sol, the Spanish company that MOPT contracted to build the road, punctured the Barva aquifer, which supplies water to more than 500,000 people in the Central Valley.

The environmental court ruled that construction affected the Barva aquifer, the Río Tárcoles and at least 20 streams and rivers between Orotina, just inland from the central Pacific coast and Ciudad Colón, a Central Valley town southwest of San José.

In late October, the Environmental Tribunal determined that Autopistas del Sol had implemented sufficient mitigation plans to prevent dirt and construction debris from flowing into nearby water sources and construction was allowed to continue. Fines for the original damage, however, will come from a $2.9 million environmental security deposit that Autopistas del Sol paid before work started.

Governmental studies later revealed no major damage to the Barva aquifer, but they confirmed minor harm to some waterways.

The water in the aquifer was never found to be unsafe to drink.

The project was initially estimated to cost $100 million. But, after construction began, that price tag rose to more than $229 million.

Autopistas del Sol will maintain and operate the highway under the concession granted by MOPT.

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