Imaginary or Real, Highway Spurs Growth
“If you build it, they will come,”Kevin Costner solemnly stated in the 1989 film “Field of Dreams.”
In the Costa Rican context, Costner could restate that: If you promise to build it but never get around to it, they still might come.
Key to the country’s long-term transportation planning has been the dream of a 77-kilometer highway between San José and the central Pacific port of Caldera, an idea first proposed in 1973. With such a route, driving time between capital and coast would be cut to just under an hour.
President Abel Pacheco, like several of his predecessors, vowed two years ago the highway would be completed by the time he leaves office in May.
“Oscar Arias promised completion of the highway by the end of his term,” laughs Tomás Ghormley, owner and broker of Century 21 agencies in Jacó and Esterillos, an area on the central Pacific coast that stands to benefit mightily from construction of the road.
(That was in the late 1980s, of course. In an ironic twist of fate, Arias may yet get another chance to make good on his promise.)
“Only in Costa Rica do these things happen,” says José Carlos Arce, vice-president of Hacienda Los Reyes, a real estate development in La Guácima de Alajuela, northwest of San José. The development was conceived in 1976 in anticipation of the highway being constructed, he says. But, Arce says, “The road is coming.” It might be sooner than everyone thinks. The Comptroller General’s Office is evaluating awarding the contract for the $145 million project to firm Autopistas del Sol, with tentative plans to reinitiate construction by the end of the year. The eventual route will become an extension of the presentPróspero Fernández Highway
that connects the capital with Ciudad Colón, 14 km to the southwest.
Yet the real estate market along the highway’s eventual route has not simply shrugged its collective shoulders with a “Promises, promises” sigh over a project entering its 33rd year on the drawing board.
“Yes, it will happen,” Ghormley says. “The market has already recognized that fact.”
The most recent hubbub over the highway occurred in early 2004, with completion of five bridges, at a cost of $30 million, to be incorporated into the route. But the consortium that was awarded the contract to construct and administer the highway withdrew from the project last year, citing lack of profitability.
Ghormley has seen two-bedroom condominiums in Jacó increase in price from $150,000 to $425,000 in the last 10 years. Beachfront property has risen from $400 to $700 per square meter.
“Assuming you can find it these days,” qualifies Ghormley, who says his pitch to prospective clients has always been the eventual completion of the highway.
Philip Edwardes, investor and developer in Jacó’s Club del Mar real estate development, adds that the highway will put a wealthy part of the western greater metropolitan area (Escazú, Santa Ana and Ciudad Colón) close to the beach.
“It will be conceivable to come out here just for lunch on weekends,” he says. And at just 17 km out of San José and 38 km to the Pacific-slope town of Orotina, Hacienda Los Reyes sits in the highway corridor, and will provide quick access to the coast.
Arce suggests that, with the highway, Los Reyes will become a great alternative to Escazú, whose legendary rise to fame has led to explosive growth and congestion. He cites Los Reyes’ advantages over the western suburb: sewage treatment rather than septic tanks, sufficient water supply and ample space.
Some 700 of Los Reyes’ lots have been sold; presently 160 of them contain homes. Until now, the development has largely been the domain of single-family units, but it is expanding into condominiums and town houses.
Arce says that number will increase dramatically with highway completion, as will the value of those lots.
Back in Jacó, at the other end of the eventual route, Edwardes cautions in favor of a responsible approach to development.
Although he is an active proponent of the new highway, he insists that Jacó’s infrastructure remains fragile.
With or without the highway, Jacó remains the closest beach to San José, but it is now an area poised for growth, a pivotal point sitting in the middle of the country with easy access north and south. It boasts a supermarket, a new shopping mall and movie theaters among its offerings, all rarities among most Costa Rican beach communities.
“At the least, there will be a tremendous impact on weekend traffic,” Edwardes says, citing as reasons the 350-400 condominium units coming onto the market each year and the five- to eight-story buildings being constructed in the community.
“We can’t hide the problems we’re creating,” he insists, explaining that every one of those new units has an impact on Jacó’s infrastructure.