For this month, the expansion work on the section of the Interamericana Norte highway between Limonal and Barranca (Puntarenas), should have been underway.
At least that was the plan by the Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transporters (MOPT).
But the reality is another matter. In fact, to date, the MOPT has not even been able to award the contracts. And there is no estimate of when the expected start order could even be given.
This is due to the “eternal appeals processes” that commonly frustrate the start of public works in the country. And this vital project is no exception.
The 49-kilometers of the Ruta 1 from Barranca (Puntarenas) was divided into two sections: the 23.8 km section between Limonal-San Gerardo (Chomes) and the 25.2 km between San Gerardo-Barranca.
Once complete, this section of the Interamerican would be four lanes, to complement the section between Limonal and Cañas, currently under construction, and the already built section from Cañas to Liberia.
Once the complete, the Interamericana norte would be four lanes between Puntarenas and Liberia. A dream by many regularly driving this route.
But they, we all, will have to wait.
Both sections of the Limonal – Barranca are eight months behind schedule, delays caused by resolutions of appeals, administrative claims, and re-adjudication of contractions.
According to the MOPT information, in the case of the Limonal-San Gerardo stretch, since the bid was published at the end of 2017, at least 14 objections and two appeals were received.
In June 2018, the Unidad Ejecutora del Programa de Infraestructura de Transportes (PIT) – Executing Unit of the Transportation Infrastructure Program – awarded the work to the San Gerardo consortium, made up of the H. Solís and Meco companies, for US$99 million dollars.
However, this award was annulled by the Comptroller General (Contraloría) last September, due to the fact that said consortium had financial breaches.
The contract was then awarded to the Power China company that offered to build the section for US$114 million, which was also appealed and later annulled in February of this year, after determining that the company did not meet some of the experience requirements established as a condition of eligibility.
That cancellation left the government with the possibility to choose only between two bidders: the Puentes Almendro consortium for US$110 million and the FCC construction company (that built the Liberia – Cañas section), whose offer is $116 million. These bids are for an asphalt finish instead of the concrete used in the other sections of the route.
The story in the San Gerardo-Barranca section is similar. In this case, the bidding occurred in July last year and was also awarded to Power China for US$103 million.
That award also annulled on January 24 of this year, when the Contraloría ruled in favor of two appellants and for the same reasons: non-compliance with experience requirements.
In this case, the PIT has a choice of between the offers of four other companies and consortiums, whose costs range between US$103 million and US$109 million.
More appeals expected
Tomás Figueroa, in charge of the PIT for the Limonal-San Gerardo stretch, reported that on April 10 the report was sent to the Advisory Unit with the recommendation of the company to re-adjudicate.
Now, he said, we must wait until the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the entity that is providing the financing for the project, to give the go-ahead.
From there, the notice of re-adjudication will be published and the bidders will have five working days to appeal, then it will be up to the Contraloría to resolve within a period of no more than 30 business days.
For the Barranca-Limonal section, the process began on May 7.
“Most likely, they will appeal again,” Figueroa said. However, he hopes that that won’t be the case.
The official explained that the situation that they face as atypical.
Part of the problem, according to Figueroa, being a project financed by the IDB, procurement policies must be applied in the initial stages and then, in the recursive stages, local regulations and IDB policies.
Figueroa said that this delay causes the cost of the work to rise, because each time an offer is rejected, “the new bid prices go up”.
The Minister of the MOPT, Rodolfo Méndez, put a positive spin on the process (delays), saying last week that “the experience in these two projects would allow them (the MOPT) to consider improvements in the bids for the future”, in order to avoid this type of setbacks.
The Interamericana Norte (Ruta 1)
The Barranca-Limonal section (in two parts) forms part of the three stages in which the expansion project in the Interamericana Norte between Puntarenas and Liberia.
The Cañas-Liberia section was completed in April 2016. The Cañas-Limonal, which is currently under construction by the Spanish company Azvi, should be ready by the end of next year (2020), as promised by the MOPT.
Both these stages were financed through a US$450 million dollar loan by the IDB.