New Roads, Old Roads (and Bridges)

Last week, before the current rains hit, I persuaded a friend to take a trip down the new highway between San Jose and Caldera, as far as the turnoff to Jaco, at least (where we were headed). He agreed to drive and at about 11 am on Wed. May 19 we headed out to check out the new Autopista del Sol, as the highway is called. Traffic was light and we made the trip from the beginning of the autopista to Jaco in right about an hour and a half. The surface or the road is smooth, and twists and turns are quite mild, nothing compared to the other route, which buses still have to navigate, since the government has yet to give them the right to use the new autopista. Pura vida.

Our smooth trip was on a cloudy but dry day. Had we gone during the recent rainstorm, we might have been dodging rocks and boulders big enough to crush our car. Much of the highway was cut through small hills to keep the highway from being as winding as the old road. Unfortunately, due to economic considerations and the fact that the land that is sliding is in private hands, the slopes are steep, the cliffs are very close to the highway, and rock slides are going to be a fact of life.

If you watch the video, you can see how often the highway is flanked by bare cliff faces on both sides. There are sections where preventative measures have been taken, such as cement cliff faces and other methods to keep rocks from falling on passing motorists, but already some of these measures have failed. On the positive side, Ticos have a high tolerance for dangerous roads (and driving). Don’t be surprised to see band-aid ‘solutions.’

On the other side of the country, Route 32 between San Jose and Puerto Limon was closed yet again by the storm. Even before the storm, it was still not back to normal after being closed completely on April 27 and reopened on a limited basis May 10.

The road is treacherous enough, with little in the way of reflectors or markers to show lanes or even the edge of the highway. Unfortunately, Costa Rican drivers don’t miraculously become safe and sane when the road conditions get bad. Passing on a blind curve isn’t considered bad form here.

The condition of the roads in this country are notoriously bad, with a few exceptions. The new Costanera Sur highway between Quepos and Dominical is open and is probably quite nice, but I can’t say how nice it is because I haven’t been on it.

The main bridge between Desamparados and Aserri was recently damaged and will be closed for at least two weeks. (Remember that a Costa Rican week is often actually a month, a month a year, a year a decade, etc) About a half a year ago there were two bridges that collapsed entirely in the space of about a week.

One was near Puerto Jiminez on the Osa Peninsula, the other bridge collapse resulted in the death of 5 people when a school bus plunged into the Tarcoles river. Two more bridges were closed due to structural damage; one in Guanacaste and the other in the Arenal area.

But like any country, Costa Rica doesn’t have unlimited funds and must set priorities. The $80 million for a soccer stadium donated by China could have fixed a few bridges, I suppose, but you have to have priorities. Sure, Taiwan funded a $27 million dollar Bridge across the Tempisque River, but who can get as excited about that as a good futbol match? Certainly not your average Tico.

All snark aside, you have to wonder why Costa Rica has such horrible infrastructure. Is it bad management, graft, or just a cultural tolerance for incompetence and bad workmanship? A combination of all that? Something I’m missing? In any case, be careful on those roads and bridges, mi amor!

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  1. Nice looking road, and great video. I'm worried about those exposed cliffs.

  2. I have driven the new highway to Caldera 6 times and agree; also about the history of poor highway and bridge infrastructure. However, there are major highway/road improvements in the metro San Jose area that have been completed or are in progress. The recently completed Sabana Sur road, the elimination of two of the rotundas on the circunvalacion (the second almost completed); the road to Alejuelita-Escazu and link to Sabana Sur; the downtown street improvements, etc. There is a lot of "make-up" work to be done but at least some substantial progress is taking place.