Wearing a blue blazer and a smile, San José Mayor Johnny Araya stood in the middle of Avenida 8 Monday morning and cut a thin blue, white and red ribbon to inaugurate the reopening of a portion of one of the city’s main thoroughfares. A five-block stretch of Avenida 8 between Calle 13 and Calle 25 had been closed for six months so that the former asphalt covering could be replaced with concrete.
“The decision to pave the new stretch of roadway with concrete assures us that this road will have a lifespan of 25-30 years,” Araya said. “This road will now be wider, smoother, and easier to navigate for drivers. The concrete also absorbs heat, which will keep the city temperatures down.”
Yet, while the mayor sang praises for the new road, local businesses owners and neighbors on the south side of the avenue worry that a potential design flaw could cause more flooding.
On May 27, a heavy afternoon downpour flooded businesses on the south side of Avenida 8, sending business owners scrambling to fight back the rushing storm runoff from nearby streets. Officials from the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA), who spent months upgrading sewage and runoff pipes underneath the street, blamed the flooding on unusually heavy rains.
“We’ve been here between 30 and 40 years and we’ve never had flooding like we had that day,” Raul Ortega, owner of the Clínica Santa Rita Pharmacy told The Tico Times, which was also flooded that day. “The water flowed from the street, down the stairs, and about two inches of water covered our entire floor and laboratory. It caused a lot of damage. While we can’t say for sure if the flooding was caused by road construction, nothing like that had ever happened before.”
Ortega said that he spoke with an AyA official about the damage and was told that larger tubing had been placed in the road’s drainage system to prevent such incidents. He also said he was told that further flooding should not occur, despite the below street-level location of the pharmacy.
“The explanation from the AyA didn’t make a lot of sense,” Ortega said. “If there are larger tubes in place for the water, why did so much of it run off the street and into the pharmacy?”
In addition to the pharmacy at the Clínica Santa Rita, several other restaurants and pulperías (corner stores) were also flood victims that day. Owners of The Coffee Square restaurant said that water from the street rose to the door of the restaurant “for the first time in six years of operation.”
Isabel Villalobos, owner of the Super Tica corner store, said it was the first time in more than 20 years that her store had been flooded.
“I was told the flooding was a result of one of the hardest rains in years, and that two weeks worth of rain fell in two hours,” Villalobos said. “Even if that is true, it is an interesting coincidence. Despite all the rain that falls here, we’ve never had a flood until the new road was put in.”
In response to the complaints, Carlos Cordero, manager of infrastructure for the concrete company Cemex, said that the problems most likely occurred due to incomplete road construction at the time of the May 27 rains.
“The street is designed so that it doesn’t flood. The floods probably occurred when the road was still under construction and not yet prepared for heavy rains,” Cordero said. “We have reinforced some of the materials in the road to prevent floods from occurring.”
While Cordero said that he “doesn’t expect flooding to happen again,” he said the San José Municipality would be responsible for any damage to local businesses if further incidents were reported.
According to municipal officials, more than $1 million was invested in improvements along Avenida 8, which also included an investment of about $260,000 by AyA. In the last two years, the municipality has invested more than $1.67 million in three infrastructure improvement projects along the road.
Araya said roadway construction is scheduled to begin on Avenida 3 in upcoming weeks. According to the mayor, workers will replace asphalt with concrete on a stretch of four blocks from Fischel Pharmacy to the Mercado Borbón. The construction will be conducted by Cemex and carries a $400,000 price tag.
Construction and concreting of 10 blocks of Avenida 10 is scheduled to begin in January 2012.
“There is a known need to improve the state of the roadways of this city,” Araya said. “We know that and continue to plan to invest funds into constructing efficient, strong and aesthetically pleasing roads.”
As for the businesses on the south side of Avenida 8, it appears the next hard rain will determine if the late May flood was a fluke or if it was a result of faulty preparation and construction
“Really all we can do now is wait to see what happens the next time it rains hard,” Villalobos said. “If everything stays dry, we might have a little more confidence in the new road. If it floods again, then we’ll know for sure that the project was poorly done.”