President Luis Guillermo Solis Monday morning announcing the official start of the north arc of the Circunvalacion. Behind him, in the dark suit and tie, is the current Minister of Public Works and Transport (MOPT)

It was 7:00 am this Monday morning when President Luis Guillermo Solis officially gave the order for the start of the construction of the 4.3 kilometers ‘north’ portion of the Ruta 39 or  Circunvalación.

The road will complete the ring road around San Jose, connecting the missing link between Tibas and La Uruca.

Earth moving machines began breaking ground for a road that has taken decades to complete. The concept of the ring road began in the lat 1950s

The Circunvalacion, with all its pitfalls, is a major artery in moving 100,000 vehicles daily from/to the east, west and south traffic of San Jose, bypassing the downtown core.

The cost of the project is US$147 million dollars, financed by a loan from the Banco Centroamericano de Integración Económica (BCIE).

Guiselle Alfaro, Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, said on August 21 that work would begin, finally, the third week of September.

Ruta 39 or the Cirunvalación. Red indicates the built portion; Dark Blue is the section that got underway this morning, the Light Blue the “porvenir” (to future)

But don’t expect it anytime soon.

One, the four stages of the project is expected to take 28 months to complete and according to the Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transportes (MOPT) – the ministry of Public Works and Transport – though the project is getting underway, the design is only 75% complete.

Two, the fifth stage, the 1.3 km between the Triángulo de Solidaridad and Calle Blancos, is on standby, given that the MOPT does not have the US$70 million dollars or financing for it.

The north section of the Circunvalcation includes a connection to the Ruta 32, the road to the Caribbean coast.

A Project of Decades

The Circunvalacion, as is typical of road construction in Costa Rica, is a project of decades.

It took almost three decades to finally get the Ruta 27 and then not the original six/four lane combination between San Jose and Caldera of the original design.

The San Carlos route is still ongoing. The Chilimate-Vuelta Kooper yet is another. And the reconstruction of the General Cañas and Bernardo Soto (La Sabana to San Ramon) is still in its infancy, less than 10 years in the project. And, It only took nine years to fix the ‘platina’ bridge, a feat by Costa Rica standards.

History of the Circunvalación

It was in the late 1950s when the INVU – the National Institute of Housing and Urbanism – together with the MOPT proposed the construction of the so-called Circunvalación. The project was declared one of public interest.

However, 20 years passed without the work being done. The MOPT hired an American consulting firm, whose report finally suggested that it was no longer feasible to build the road as originally planned. This report suggested that the ring road move further away from the central hull of San Jose, into less populated areas. Finally, the 4-lane road began to be built in 1979.

From La Uruca, the road passes through Pavas on the west side of San Jose, to the Hatillos, Alajuelita, Desamparados on the south and Zapote, San Pedro and ends at Calles Blancos in the east.

Missing is the Calle Blancos to La Uruca along the north.

The Circunvalcation connects directly to the Autopista General Cañas and the Ruta 27 and indirectly by way of Zapote and San Pedro/Curridabat to the Florencio del Castillo, the road to Cartago.

In early 2000’s, the MOPT revived the idea of completing the ring road with the start of purchases of land to clear the way.

But, it ran into problems with expropriations and squatters, entire shantytown communities rising up from where the road was to be built, the latter being the major headache for the governments of the day, not ready to politically evict people given they had not resettlement plan.

In April 2014, it was announced that the expropriations would finally take place. In June of that same year, the Comptroller General of the Republic gave approval to the contract for the construction of the north arc.

In the last three years, the work was postponed due to delays in the expropriation and relocation of families in the shantytown of Triángulo de Solidaridad, Calle Blancos.

Route and Access

The Circunvalcation was conceived in the beginning to be a complete ring that avoids traffic to enter the center of the capital city. Despite the fact that it initially fulfilled its mandate (even without the north arc), it has demonstrated over the years that due to population growth and indiscriminate possession of vehicles, the route it is not enough to avoid ‘the presas’ (Costa Rican term for road congestion).

Despite that this morning the project moves forward, many say its completion, even if on schedule, will not be enough.

Experts assure that measures have had to be taken, such as increased vehicle restrictions and people opting for alternate routes, before the presas, that are now not just at peak morning and afternoon work days, start to become manageable