Residents and business owners from Costa Rica’s northern zone met with President Luis Guillermo Solís Wednesday to ask him to move faster to build a new road to the region, a project they have been awaiting for more than 40 years.
Solís promised in June that most of the 28-kilometer road, known as the San Carlos Highway, would be ready by the end of his term in 2018. The highway will connect the Alajuela cantons of San Ramón, in the Central Valley, and San Carlos, in the northern zone.
Very little progress was made on the road during the past two administrations, however Public Works and Transport (MOPT) Minister Carlos Segnini said current estimates are to finish the northern stretch of the road by mid-2016 and the central segment by the end of 2017.
Delays have mostly been due to the lengthy legal procedures required to expropriate private property along the route. Currently the government is in negotiations with the owners of 80 percent of the required properties. Negotiations are still pending with some 28 properties, Segnini said.
On Wednesday afternoon Solís declared the project of public interest in order to expedite all remaining expropriations.
The project’s timetable also suffered an eight-month delay this year due to a complaint for alleged environmental damage to a wetland. The complaint was filed by ruling Citizen Action Party lawmaker Javier Cambronero Arguedas.
An Environmental Court dismissed the complaint in November after an on-site technical inspection did not find any damage caused by road construction.
Segnini asked lawmakers and citizen groups to refrain from further delaying the project. “We hope there will not be any more citizens or lawmakers getting creative with similar complaints just to halt the project,” the minister said.
MOPT’s main concern now is that technical studies for the construction of the southern stretch of the highway are delayed, and won’t be ready until May.
“We currently don’t know whether we will be able to finish the southern stretch. We are not even sure if we will start work on it,” Segnini said.
The northern region, and particularly the canton of San Carlos, is an area rich in agriculture and livestock production. It also has several tourist destinations where hotels, restaurants and tour operators have developed successful businesses.