The long-awaited highway to Caldera, promised to make the drive to the central Pacific coast a breeze, is being built with faulty material, unapproved plans and possibly has caused serious environmental damage, according to complaints from the company contracted to oversee the project, Imnsa Ingenieros Consultores (Imnsa).
The complaints come after Imnsa was criticized by the government’s Comptroller General’s Office for lax oversight of the project and fined by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (MOPT). The project is public work undertaken by a private company with a government concession, and it, therefore, is subject to public oversight.
Marvin Rojas, a legislator with the opposition Citizen Action Party (PAC), recently visited the highway project with representatives of Imnsa, and described a series of problems in the construction.
“We found that the concrete used for some of the bridges does not pass quality control,” Rojas said. “The walls of the bridge also are not plumb – they are totally irregular.”
According to Rojas, the legislators were shown other alleged problems with the construction, including lanes that suddenly get narrower and hillsides that are cut to nearly 90-degree angles, creating the risk of landslides onto the highway.
In addition, Imnsa has complained that some of the plans for traffic bridges built by the construction company have not been approved by the Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos. Such approval is a legal requirement.
“There are problems with design, with the process and with the quality of the construction,” said Edgar Hernández, Imnsa’s director of supervision. Hernández, however, said he could not talk on the record about details of the complaints due to a confidentiality clause in his company’s contract with the government.
An Imnsa official spoke with Channel 7 TV News last week, however, outlining many of the problems mentioned by Rojas, including alleged environmental damage.
According to Rojas, the construction company cut a trench “15 to 20 meters deep” through an area near San Rafael de Alajuela, west of San José. According to Imnsa and Rojas, the environmental impact study filed by the construction company and the environmental management plan the company is required to follow both show that the Barva aquifer, which supplies drinking water to much of the Central Valley, rises to within five meters of the surface in that area. The plan instructed the construction company to pass over the area and not dig into the earth, Rojas explained.
Footage shown on Channel 7 TV News showed water pouring from the fresh dirt cut back by the construction company in the area of the aquifer. The channel also showed images of a dump truck emptying loads of dirt from the construction into a nearby river.
“There is no respect for the environment,” Rojas said.
The consortium Autopistas del Sol is building the Caldera highway, which is planned to stretch 77 kilometers from the town of Escazú, southwest of San José, to thePortofCaldera, on the central Pacific coast, under concession from the government. Questions sent to Autopistas del Sol were not answered by press time. However, in a response sent to Channel 7, Autopistas del Sol said that it “rejects” the complaints reported on the channel and “can categorically affirm that who is most interested in the highway being of the highest quality is us, because for 25 years Autopistas del Sol will be the company in charge of its maintenance, conservation, administration and modernization.”
According to the contract, Autopistas del Sol is responsible for financing the project and may recoup its expenses by charging drivers a toll for using the highway.
“Contrary to what was presented in the series of reports, this project is the most audited and supervised in the country’s history,” the company said, according to a summary on Channel 7’s Web site. “The reason is simple; the money to build the San José – Caldera highway is supplied by Autopistas del Sol and foreign banks.”