“La Platina”, the bridge over the Virilla river on the autopista General Cañas is an example of the failure of the ministry of Transportation and Public Works (MOPT) to effectively carry out public works projects, the sorry state of repairs of bridges in the country and a government agency that just can’t seem to get anything right.

The crumbling concrete and exposed metal grate of the multimillion dollar repair job.
The crumbling concrete and exposed metal grate of the multimillion dollar repair job.

The Platina has undergone several repair attempts over the last several years, costing millions of dollars and the life of one worker.

MOPT minister, Pedro Castro, on Monday announced that work on the next attempt to repair the bridge will begin in March, following authorization by the Contraloría General de la Republica (CGR) – Comptroller’s office – to award contracts.

The CGR authorized the approval of three contracts: one to a company to carry out the work, a second to a supervisor body and a third to an inspector for the work.

Castro said that having three levels of responsibility will avoid problems in getting the job done. Five companies are expected to called in to bid on the job(s) that is expected tobbe completed by end of the 2013.

It’s been four years since the first sign of problems on the bridge, when a 10 centimeter (4 inch) gap between the one of the spans was noticed.

The MOPT got busy on repairing the problem. But the repair job lasted less than 2 days, when the material used for the patch began to crack.

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Months later a second attempt was made, using a different type of material supposedly specific to the problem. That repair job last only several hours this time, breaking up by noon following the road was re-opening to traffic in the early morning hours.

Months would pass before another attempt was made.  Third if you are keeping count. This time, millions of dollars and interruption of traffic for months included work to replace the deck on both sides of the bridge and the installation of a concrete median and retaining wall and a metal mesh guardrail.  (The mesh saved the lives of three in a accident on Saturday, when their vehicle flipped and was stopped from dropping hundreds of feet to the rocky river below. See story.)

During the progress of the third attempt to repair the bridge one worker was run down by a drunk driver and another injured.

The media's lighter look at the Virilla repair.
The media’s lighter look at the Virilla repair.

Within days of the “completion”, the concrete surface began to crumble and the metal grate exposed. Over the following weeks larger sections of concrete broke up, in effect causing more problems for drivers than the original gap.

Patches of concrete and asphalt covered up the exposed steel grate and crumbled concrete. This could be called a fourth attempt, but not really since it was a patch and not officially a fix.

Meanwhile the finger pointing began to lay the blame, causing the contractor to pull stakes and abandon the project altogether.

The MOPT – and the people – were left footing the an expensive repair job and with a bridge that was no better than before the problems started.

Yes, the bridges looks newer, but that is mere cosmetics to what is really needed, the bridge taken down and a new one put up.

There are plans for that, but due to financial constraints and problems with a ministry that has been mired in corruption and scandals, like the Trocha, it may be a decade or two or more before work on a new bridge will start.

In the meantime the Virilla is just another chapter on the “chorizeros” (Spanish for corruption) goings on at the MOPT. Will this repair of the Virilla carry on with the tradition?

The answer of bringing in a contractor, a supervisor and inspector sounds good. But who will supervise the inspector and the supervisor of the inspector that supervises the supervisor of the supervisor of the inspector of the supervisor of the contractor…

Sadly to say, this will probably be another “chorizo” job. And all sanctioned by the Comptroller’s office and Casa Presidencial.

Viva el Virilla!

The first muddled repair back in August 2009.
The first muddled repair back in August 2009.