IF all goes according to the new plan, by December the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) may have finished constructing some of the eight pedestrian bridges it was ordered to build “immediately” last October by the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV).
Lorena López, Vice-Minister of Public Works, said MOPT apologizes for the delay; but can’t speed up the construction process because it must adhere to the country’s cumbersome administrative hiring laws.
The Ombudsman’s Office said the delay is “unacceptable,” given the number of pedestrian deaths along the highways where the bridges are planned (TT, Nov. 21, 2003).
“It’s a matter of public safety and fundamental rights,” Ombudsman José Manuel Echandi told The Tico Times.
“MOPT must find a mechanism to speed up the construction of these bridges, which will save lives. Life is the most sacred value of the Constitution. It is the most important of the country’s laws.
“Sometimes the procedures the government must adhere to are ridiculous,” he added.
DURING the past two years, at least 10 people have died while attempting to cross thePróspero Fernández Highway
, which connects San José to the western suburb of Santa Ana.
The most recent deaths took place last month. At 7:20 a.m. on Feb. 9, Fermín Joya, 68, was run over by a passing vehicle as he attempted to cross the highway near the exitramp to Escazú.
Minutes later, 24-year-old Diego Trejos – a pharmacist and the son of Fernando Trejos, executive president of the Mixed Institute for Social Aid (IMAS) – stopped and got out of his vehicle to assist Joya. Shortly after, both men were run over and killed by an Escazú- San José bus.
Similar accidents have taken place along other highways. Last year, a girl was killed and another left paralyzed after being hit by a vehicle as they attempted to cross theFlorencio del Castillo Highway
, which connects San José to the colonial capital of Cartago, to the east.
PLANS to build the eight pedestrian bridges – two over the Próspero Fernández highway, three over the Florencio del Castillo highway, two on the General Cañas highway between San José and Alajuela and one in San José – were first unveiled three years ago.
In October 2002, MOPT began a public bidding process to hire a company to build the bridges.
By April 2003, exasperated by delays with the bidding process and outraged by another pedestrian death, a resident of Santa Ana filed an injunction before Sala IV demanding MOPT build the bridges. In October 2003, the Court ordered the bridges be built immediately (TT, Oct. 17, 2003).
By then, the bidding process was under way. Two companies, Productos de Concreto and Estructuras de Concreto had made bid offers. Productos de Concreto was awarded the contract, but Estructuras appealed it. It took the Comptroller General’s Office a month to study the appeal before it rejected it in November.
Just as MOPT and Productos were set to sign the $1.23 million contract, the Comptroller’s Office ruled in December 2003 to annul the entire bidding process, saying it did not meet the technical requirements.
LAST month, MOPT published a new bidding cartel for the same eight bridges. Bid offers are due April 9.
“We have relaunched the public bidding process,” López explained. “We hope the experience we and the companies have earned from the previous bidding process will help us get the project back on track.”
Once bids are received, MOPT will have one month to evaluate which one best meets the technical, economic and legal requirements.
Afterward, MOPT and the winning firm will sign the contract and send it to the Comptroller General’s Office, which will have two months to evaluate it.
“Being optimistic, really optimistic, we could begin construction in July,” López said. “Some of the bridges could be done by December.”
ECHANDI insists MOPT must heed the Sala’s ruling. However, he did not specify exactly how the ministry could circumvent the country’s contracting laws.
“The bridges are urgent and necessary,” he said. “It’s something that has been delayed more than three years by administrative problems and faulty bidding processes. It has grave consequences. It puts in danger the lives of children, adults and the elderly.”
Echandi blames MOPT for not making the requirements for projects clear enough the last time.
“MOPT is required to make good bidding cartels, award them to the right companies and make sure the projects are completed correctly and on time,” he said. “The administration is guilty of putting in danger the lives of pedestrians.”
IN an attempt to address the problem at its root, Public Works and Transport Minister Javier Chaves recently unveiled a bill aimed at making government bidding processes faster and more efficient (TT, Jan. 30, Feb. 13).
The bill aims to simplify the procedures required for bidding process for small projects. It also reduces the amount of time companies are given to submit bids, the time the government has to evaluate the bids and the time the Comptroller General’s Office has to evaluate and approve contracts. It also would allow the government to issue “urgency procedures” for certain projects.
If MOPT declares a state of urgency, it would be allowed to reduce the length of time allotted for each step of the bidding process by half.
However, legislators must still approve the bill, and while it may stop similar projects from being delayed in the future, it is not expected to speed up the construction of the pedestrian highway bridges.