The Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) has fined seven companies more than $225,000 for not meeting contract requirements during their first five months of work on various roads.
The seven businesses, hired to maintain some of the nation’s fraying roadway infrastructure, were fined for using asphalt mixes not up to quality standards, falling behind on projects and having work teams short of personnel, according to Pedro Castro, Vice-Minister of Public Works and Transport.
“A lot of these roads need to be reconstructed, but there’re no funds for it,” Castro said. Instead, MOPT contracted 22 businesses this year to patch potholes, clean gutters and repair bridges on the nation’s 3,700 kilometers of paved roads.
The seven businesses fined include Meco, Santa Fe, Conansa, Sánchez Carvajal, M&S, Convicar and Convisur. Meco vice-president José Alfredo Sánchez told the daily La Nación the fines would require businesses to be punctual.
Contracting out this maintenance work, which began in July and is already running into bumps, is one small step in MOPT’s larger plans to overhaul the nation’s roadways by contracting out highway construction and improvements.
The State of the Nation report released recently concluded that six of each 10 kilometers of road in Costa Rica are in bad or very bad conditions. The network of national roadways has lost more than 50% of its value because of a lack of proper maintenance (TT, Nov. 17).
Municipal roadways are worse, with only 10% in good condition, and the rest in bad, very bad or fair condition, according to the report.
To fix all the country’s roads would cost 20% of the central government’s $5.6 billion budget, according to the report. Castro said MOPT has some $140 million in its budget from the gasoline tax, and another $160 million from the Central American Economic Integration Bank (BCIE) to maintain and improve roads next year.
He said that is barely enough, which is why the ministry is looking to concession out more and more highway projects to private companies.
The National Roadway Council (CONAVI), a branch of MOPT, manages the national highway system. Local governments are in charge of maintaining municipal roads, though MOPT also supports municipalities with roadway maintenance teams.
MOPT’s plans to restructure the nearly 30 teams it has around the country that help municipalities maintain local roads are stirring controversy.
Walter Soto, a MOPT worker and union member in Naranjo, west of San José, said more than two dozen workers from the Naranjo plant began strikes this week to protest changes MOPT is making to the public institution.
“The government wants to privatize and weaken the institution,” he said, adding that workers at other plants could go on strike in the near future.
Castro said MOPT’s plans to “restructure” its maintenance teams won’t necessarily mean layoffs, though it could mean workers will be moved around while as many as seven offices are closed down.
MOPT has no immediate plans to privatize roadway maintenance at the local level, according to Castro.
On a national level, MOPT plans to concession out the construction of four large highways next year, as well as three rotunda projects and six projects to build or expand roads that connect main highways.
Spanish company Autopistas del Valle is preparing to begin a $150 million expansion of the 60-kilometer highway between San José and San Ramón, on the western edge of the Central Valley. Castro said the company would likely begin construction by February.
Construction of the 70-kilometer, $100 million highway between San José and the Pacific port of Caldera, by the Spanish company Autopista del Sol, is also slated to begin by February.
But the 25-kilometer, $100 million project to widen the highway between the eastern Central Valley city of Cartago and San José, as well as tentative plans to expand and improve the highway from San José to the Caribbean port of Limón, have yet to find concessionaires.
Castro said those projects aren’t likely to break ground until 2008 or later. He said MOPT hopes to finish by 2008
six projects totaling $40 million to build roads that connect major highways.
Also this week, MOPT broke ground on a 10-month, $3.5 million project to build an underground passage beneath a rotunda leading to the southern San José neighborhood of San Sebastián,which will be done by the Costa Rican company Sánchez Carvajal. Castro said there are two more rotunda projects in Hatillo and Alajuelita scheduled to start next year.
MOPT also has plans to concession out a $150 million reconstruction project of theInter-American Highway
in the northwest province of Guanacaste so construction can begin by the end of next year. He said the section between Barranca and Limonal will be expanded to four lanes, while the section between Limonal and Peñas Blancas, on the border with Nicaragua, will be repaved.