QCOSTARICA – Road construction, more to the point, delivery of finish projects, has been a low point for Costa Rica’s Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transportes (MOPT) – Ministry of Public Works and Transport.
Major projects around the country, past and present, have all suffered the inability or ineptitude of the MOPT, who are great (in most cases) to start but seem never to get to the end, for some reason or another and when they do it is way beyond any projected date.
A case in point is the reconstruction of the 107 kilometers of the Ruta 32 from Guapiles to the city of Limon.
In less than a year – 11 months – to the conclusion of the project, the MOPT has only taken possession of 83 of the 523 lands needed for the expansion of the highway between the crossing to Río Frío and the center of Limón.
In other words, only 16% of the farms or parcels are expropriated and 440 are yet to be finalized, which complicates the situation for the Chinese company, China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC), whose newest request for the extension of the original contract is still under analysis by the National Highway Council (Conavi), a dependency of the MOPT.
The last extension deadline approved was for March, which is impossible to meet.
Kenneth Solano, director of the Executing Unit of the Ruta 32 project, confirmed that the CHEC has already submitted a request to extend the completion date, due to compensable events.
Without detailing the number of additional days the company has requested, he said the request will be resolved by March.
For its part, the company declined to specify on what it bases the extension.
The truth is that the expropriations are one of the many complications that this work has faced, whose start order was given in November 2017. No misprint, three years and 2 months ago.
According to Solano, among the lands missing in the expropriation count are a group with voluntary entry into possession. That is, this where the owners of the lands to be expropriated have authorized the work to advance but are not yet officially on behalf of the State.
The Conavi official said that they work with a schedule of expropriations on which each of the pending cases is analyzed, in order to determine the impact that it may have in relation to the expected date of completion of the project and, if necessary, apply an internal solution.
Just a bunch of BS when you consider that Solano cautioned that they are still making adjustments to the final designs, in an attempt to reduce the number of properties required.
Precisely, all these modifications in process are one of the reproaches of the CHEC company to the State, although it assures that coordination has improved in recent months, after many disagreements.
“The expropriations and changes in the design of the works made it difficult for a long time to advance the project satisfactorily. However, in recent months, CHEC and the state authorities have maintained a timely communication that has allowed a significant improvement in this matter,” said Zhou Jingxiong, CHEC project manager
A push forward to be ready by the end of 2021
According to data from the Executing Unit, as of December 15, the highway was 37% complete.
The expansion project represents an investment of US$465 million, of which US$396 million are financed by China’s Eximbank and US$69 million correspond to the Costa Rican government.
Despite the complaint raised by the company’s project manager in September, when he appeared before the Infrastructure Commission of the Legislative Assembly, expressing that the goal was for “the main body of the road” to be operational by the end of 2021, while he acknowledged that the issue of available land was a problem.
“To this day it continues to affect the progress of the project,” Jingxiong said.
MOPT Minister Rodolfo Méndez Mata rejected the claim, saying that the company had enough space to work.
The last extension approved was the one granted in November 2019, when after requesting an additional 400 days for delays in expropriations, transfer of public services and protests, the Government gave CHECK only recognized 174 days.
Despite all the delays and conflicts, Minister Mata has said publicly that is confident in the execution of the contract, since neither the company nor the Government would allow a failure in that project.
The minister has been emphatic in that the problems that have been encountered in this road work originate in the lack of planning during the stages prior to the order to start it, in November 2017 (under the administration of Luis Guillermo Solís).
For him, the awarding of the contract was carried out “without having the slightest idea of how it was going to be executed and what was going to be carried out.”
Currently, the Chinese firm employs 1,086 Costa Rican workers in the project and 391 Chinese workers, mainly specialized engineers and technicians brought in from China.
The company says that the staff at CHEC Costa Rica is constantly adjusted according to the needs of the different construction processes of the company.
Problems facing this project are boundless. Since the end of last year, the MOPT and the construction company have faced another, a dispute that could end in international arbitration, this time due to the disagreement over which should pay for the repair of the 33 old bridges that are in the 107 km section of the reconstruction.
MOPT alleges that the signed contract leaves that responsibility to the Chinese company, while CHEC maintains that its only obligation is to build new bridges.
The resolution of the conflict could translate into a greater delay in the delivery of the works.
In addition to expanding the road to four lanes, the work entrusted to CHEC includes the construction of 36 new bridges and the reinforcement of existing ones, as well as the construction of 13 underpasses, 11 returns, 24 pedestrian bridges and five intersections at: Río Frío, Guápiles, Siquirres, Moín and at the entrance to the new Moín Container Terminal (TCM).