QCOSTARICA – The poor state of national routes represents a serious risk for tourists who visit to enjoy the beaches and mountains that Costa Rica offers, according to Flora Ayub, executive director of the Costa Rican Chamber of Hotels (CCH).
This is mainly due to the fact the country is living through two back-to-back rainy seasons without investment in road maintenance mainly due to corruption.
This has resulted in various routes experience landslides, subsidence, drag everything potholes, and other structural deficiencies that put all who circulate on these roads at risk.
Worst of all, the Minister of Public Works and Transportation (MOPT), Luis Amador, tells us that the country does not have enough resources to deal with the national emergency, a situation of great concern because, in addition to affecting mobility and reducing the quality of the tourist experience, it represents a grave risk of injury and worse.
Given this situation, the hotel sector called on the authorities to address this issue as soon as possible.
“One of the factors that influences the selection of a destination is safety and this must be seen from an integral point of view, therefore, the road infrastructure must have ideal conditions so that moving from one point to another is not a concern, especially now, that tourists prefer to rent a vehicle and travel about on their own,” said Ayub.
The urgent need to invest in road maintenance was revealed almost two weeks ago, after a landslide – product of heavy rains – on Ruta 1 in the area of the Cambronerotraffic accident on Route 1 in Cambronero, resulted in the death of nine people, when a bus with some sixty passengers and a motorcycle was swept over the cliff, down a 75-meter embankment.
That section of Ruta 1, part of the Interamericana Norte, is currently closed indefinitely. In addition, Ruta 2, the Interamericana Sur, the road to the South Zone experienced a landslide at the height to of the Cerro de la Muerte (Death’s Peak) and therefore will remain closed for the coming days.
On Ruta 27, which connects San José with Caldera, a geological fault causes a collapse at kilometer 44. This situation threatens to collapse the overpass that crosses that road, about 300 meters from the affected sector. In this case, the road concessionaire, Ruta 27 Globalvía, a private operator, is in charge of the situation.
The closure of Ruta 1 and Ruta 2 places tremendous stress and congestion on the Ruta 27 for traffic moving to and from Guanacaste and Southern Zone, respectively.
The country’s fiscal difficulties, excessive bureaucracy and poor state management, as well as corruption scandals, such as the Cochinilla case involving government road work contracts, have the country under a national road emergency and partly blamed for the lack of road maintenance for two years straight.
Given the accelerated deterioration of national roads, Costa Rica must assess the expansion of concessions as soon as possible, while at the same time transforming the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad (Conavi) to limit its function to road maintenance and not to spend its resources on new projects, according to several experts on the subject.
And while the roads do not receive maintenance, tourism, trade, and potential foreign investment are affected.
“In Latin America, the vast majority of highways have tolls and operate under the figure of a concession or some type of alliance with the private sector, which guarantees that they are in good condition (…) Maintaining a road is not cheap as some think, while in a country like Costa Rica, with a tropical climate and a rainy season that lasts seven months or more, it is important to recognize the wear and tear that occurs. As a former minister, I do not see any government investing what is necessary every year to have good roads with the fiscal crisis that we have,” said Randall Quirós, former MOPT Minister in the Abel Pacecho administration (2002 -2006(.
And on the subject of tolls, many have started to raise their voice. Being forced to use the Ruta 27 due to closures on Ruta 1 and Ruta 2, users are required to pay tolls for the privilege of driving in heavy traffic congestion and a road that is less than ideal and questionable safety conditions.
The alternates, free of tolls, in many cases crossing mountains, narrow bridges, and passages, such as Ruta 3 (Aguacate or the old road to Jacó) are not suitable for heavy vehicles.
What’s the government’s response?
The Minister of the MOPT, Luis Amador, has been frank, the 2023 budget is insufficient to maintain national roads, which are in critical condition.
“No, maintenance cannot be given,” said the Minister, explaining that in bridges alone he needs US$200 million dollars, and in roads a similar amount when he only has a budget of about US$90 million.
“We are in a country situation with a debt ceiling. It is a very uncomfortable position. I simply budget what I have been given (from the Ministry of Finance),” said Amador.