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The approval of the concession for the construction and maintenance of the toll road between San José and San Ramón has generated controversy and criticism, many in the country questioning the contract going to the Brazilian firm OAS, while residents of San Ramón and other communities west of the airport of the cost of daily travel, among other concerns.

One reader of the Q writes, “does this (road construction) have to be done by a foreign company, how about putting the monies back into Costa Rica? Does this sound stupid or does taking care of ones own country make sense?“.

Before the end of the year construction, well really, modifications to the portion of the Ruta 1 – Interamericana Norte – that starts northeast end of the Sabana park and ends 58 kilometres northwest at San Ramón will (may) begin. The construction will take 30 months to complete and will be operated and maintained for the next 30 years under a concession contract.

The concerns of residents west of the airport and opponents of the road say the project was forced down the people’s throat, the Contraloría General de la República (CGR) – Comptroller’s office – did not listen or respond to their concerns.

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The central government, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas (MOPT), the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones (CNC) and the CGR itself have not been able to answer questions about the project. Meanwhile, the MOPT minister, Pedro Castro, said that “those who do not want to use the route can always use alternates…”.

The major upset of residents is that no one is listening to them, not taking their concerns into account and not getting responses to the queries of groups like the Foro de Occidente and the Municipalidad de San Ramón.

This is the first impression visitors to Costa Rica traveling get minutes after arriving
This is the first impression visitors to Costa Rica traveling West get minutes after arriving at the airport in San José.

Paul Brenes, leader of the Occidente group, told CRHOY, “the Constitution establishes the obligation of local governments to ensure the welfare of its citizens and the obligation of the State to respect municipal autonomy to know about projects that could affect or benefit its residents.”

In this case, the group argues, neither the MOPT, the CNC or the CGR took time to visit and remove doubts before endorsing the project.

“We asked the Comptroller not to approve and give us time to discuss the project. We know they have the full power to approve, but what we expected is that before (giving approval) there is a social, environmental and economic impact studies done”, said Brenes.

Brenes added that the studies used in the process were done eight years ago.

The social and economic impact of the project is clearly seen by all but by the powers that be, it seems.

Once the new road is complete and the tolls kick in – which are now being discussed at ¢1.900 each way for a light passenger vehicle – it will mean that the only “viable” way to and from the Pacific coast is by way of a toll road: either by the Ruta 1 or the Ruta 27 (San José – Caldera).

Taking the “alternates” takes forever and at certain times of the year – like the rainy season – passage is next to impossible. For example, the alternate to the south takes one trough Escazú, Santa Ana, Puriscal and Orotina before connecting back to the Ruta 27, which still means a toll at Pozón before reaching Caldera. To the north, one has to weave through  Heredia, Alajuela, Grecia, Sarchi, Naranjo to reach San Ramón to connect back to the Ruta 1. In either example you can add up to two hours or more of additional travel, depending on traffic and weather conditions.

fameraTake the local farmer who makes his daily trip from the fields to the Cenada (fruit and vegetable wholesaler group) in Heredia or the downtown San José street markets.  Every Saturday and Sunday there local fruit and vegetable markets in every community. Farmers tavelling to markets east have to face the tolls. Using the passenger vehicle toll, each farmer now has to spend ¢80.000 a month extra to get his/her product to San José markets. Taking the alternate would add hours to his/her daily run.

Bus companies and thus passengers to and from points west of San José will also be affected.  Taking the daily bus to and from Grecia, Palmares and Atenas  – three major San José sleeper communities – will cost more. Taking the family to Guanacaste for a vacation will cost more.

Given the nature of Costa Rica’s political system, there is doubt that this project will get underway. Not for some time at least. Even Presidenta Laura Chinchilla joked about appeals being filed within 24 hours of the project’s announcement.

The question is not whether the country needs this project complete, but whether it should be a toll and under the control of a foreign operator, in this case, the Brazilian company OAS which is being alleged to have committed acts of corruption and payoffs in other South American countries.  See report: San José – San Ramón Road Concessionaire Questioned For Corruption in Other Countries

Another way of looking at it is this: it took almost 30 years of planning and construction for the San José – Caldera, the San José – San Ramón is only in its eighth year. Pura Vida, Mae!