QCOSTARICA – The Caldera Highway, as it is known to most of us living in Costa Rica, or Costa Rica Highway Route #27, as it is officially designated, has become one of the most important traffic links in the Country, connecting San Jose and other points in the Central Valley, with the Central Pacific Coast.
It was thirty years in the planning and building stages, like most major highway projects in Costa Rica and was outmoded in its design the day it opened, with short tracks of four lane highway leading to five major two lane bridges along its thirty-eight kilometer route.
Traffic, during peak use periods, can be backed-up for miles and delays stretch into hours.
The highway, although almost immediately upon opening becoming an indispensible part of the transportation system in Costa Rica, has been a recipe for disaster from the outset.
Initially, the Costa Rica Government expropriated too narrow of a right-of-way from adjoining land owners to the highway route, necessitating steep cuts through mountainous terrain, rather than a terraced approach, providing for a more controlled approach to rain water runoff.
This has necessitated a “work-in-progress” approach for the life of the highway, in maintaining the route open in the rainy season when slides and blockages are prevalent in these “steep cut” sections of the highway.
Trying to “glue” the shale rock sides of these steep cuts with sprayed-on cement, as has been tried to-date, will never be the answer. The water pressure build-up from behind during peak rain water runoff periods will defeat the sprayed-on cement cover, as has occurred.
One of the most innovative approaches to traffic management in Costa Rica, has been the reverse traffic lane flow on the Caldera Highway, principally used for movement of traffic toward San Jose, to accommodate returning traffic from the Pacific beach areas at the end of holiday periods.
To this traffic flow management, I “tip my hat” in approval to MOPT (Transportation Ministry) and the highway concessionaire, as it insures a speedy, safe, and effective manner to move a lot of traffic during these peak periods, with all traffic lanes leading to San Jose. I have heard it said that it would also be useful to publish alternate routes for drivers, especially tourists, who wish to travel in the opposite direction of the traffic flow during these periods.
One of the most annoying management aspects of the highway, is the toll both traffic lane management.
Commonly, there will be an exclusive traffic lane offered on the right hand side for “quick pass” (electronic pass) users, with exclusive lanes for manual pay users in the middle lanes and a mixed manual pay and quick pass lane on the left.
Putting manual pay and quick pass users in the same toll booth lane, in my opinion, defeats the purpose of ever obtaining a quick pass. At peak traffic times, mixing the two types of toll users, manual and quick pass, defeats obtaining the desired unimpeded traffic flow.
I believe that the correct approach would be an exclusive quick pass lane on the extreme left, with another on the extreme right. This would allow the faster travelling lighter vehicle traffic to pass the toll via the left quick pass lane, emerging on the other side aligned with the left hand, faster moving traffic lane of the highway.
Heavier vehicle traffic would use the right-hand quick pass lane, emerging on the other side aligned with the right hand, slower moving traffic lane of the highway.
The Caldera Highway over-all, has been a blessing to transportation in Costa Rica, but there is room for improvement.