QCOSTARICA – In the worst of the rainy season, drivers have to be even more vigilant of the crop of new potholes that have gone unpatched and uncut weeds that in some cases are above the roof of cars.
This is not new. It occurs every rainy season. What is different this year is the lack of maintenance by the Ministerio de Obras Publicas y Transportes (MOPT) – Ministry of Public Works and Transport, not renewing contracts since the beginning of the year and now their renewal is complicated by the corruption.
“It is unfortunate the state of the section that runs from the Juan Pablo II bridge to the Nissan, on the General Cañas highway, the pride of many Costa Ricans at one time and today the main entry and exit route for those who travel to and from West to the capital.
“The metal protection fence is beaten up, misaligned and crooked, and, most seriously, discontinuous. In addition, the entire road is full of weeds,” writes Gerardo Cruz, a resident of Alajuela who sent this message La Nación, published on September 5 as part of a collection of letters.
“Unfortunately, it has been a problem for a long time, so it is necessary for the entity (MOPT) to which it corresponds to analyze the seriousness of the situation and resolve it to prevent an accident,” concludes Cruz.
What Cruz describes captures what happens on many or all national roads: gaps in the middle of the lanes, tall grass that does not allow to see the signs, as well as gutters or saturated sewers and under threat of collapse in case of a storm.
The absence of maintenance work costs us all, not only to possible damage to vehicles, but also the risk of accidents for users of such important – congested – routes as the General Cañas or Florencio del Castillo or Circunvalación. Or any road for that matter.
The worst thing is that the new contacts to take care of the 7,000 kilometers of paved routes will not be seen in the short term due to legal and budgetary reasons.
In the opinion of experts from the Costa Rican Chamber of Construction and the National Laboratory of Structural Materials and Models (Lanamme), the abandonment of the routes could lead the road network to states that were not seen for several years.
For Ana Luisa Elizondo, coordinator of the Lanamme Transport Infrastructure Program, the damage that is beginning to be visible could even be evidence that the maintenance that was given was not of good quality.
“If you have had a road and have done good maintenance, it should be able to last a certain period of time in good condition (…) if a road in two or three months without maintenance shows a deterioration it is because what was being done it was not so good,” she said.
According to Elizondo, this could also mean that the materials used were not of good quality, which adds to the fact that many routes hardly received basic attention when they had long required major rehabilitation.
The president of the Construction Chamber, Carlos Trejos, is concerned that the lack of timely intervention could translate into higher expenses in the future.
“The maintenance of the roads contributes to the pavement structure being maintained at an adequate level of service and lengthens their useful life (…). The lack of investment in conservation could translate into a greater investment to be made in the future. Conserving is cheaper than building new roads,” he explained.
For both engineers, one of the main aggravating factors in the situation facing the road network is that the rainy season will further accelerate the deterioration.
No contracts or budget
One of the most powerful reasons why new road maintenance contracts have not been signed is the scandal over alleged corruption in roads projects.
The investigations are focused on the two construction companies that concentrated the maintenance contracts: MECO and H Solís.
For this reason, the MOPT had to rule out the possibility of resuming agreements with these companies, given the multiple questions about alleged payments of gifts to streamline procedures or win projects.
Since June 14, when raids and arrests related to the so-called Cochinilla Case were carried out, the MOPT has run to make direct agreements that allow it to attend, at least, urgent tasks.
Along with the scandal, the contracts are also delayed due to lack of resources, since supposedly to supervise these works they depend on an extraordinary budget that has not even reached the Legislative Assembly for approval.
The MOPT Minister, Rodolfo Méndez Mata, recognized the need to urgently intervene on the roads.
According to him he said, they are currently working on the bid process to get direct hiring for potholes, chapia (cut weeds) and descuaje (out out trees). In some cases, it will be necessary to rehabilitate roads with greater damage, which have already been identified.
However, he added, they depend on the extraordinary budget to hire companies that are in charge of supervising the quality of the works to be carried out.
Without this inspection, the National Highway Council (Conavi) cannot start any maintenance work, or take care of some of the tasks with its own equipment.
The minister added that they expect both situations to be resolved in the coming weeks.
But the situation goes way back, at least six months before the Cochinilla case came to light.