Legislation sought to help keep eye on public works jobs

The central government wants more authority for the Universidad de Costa Rica materials lab to keep an eye on public works projects.

At the same time there are investigations under way to determine the fault in problems with the Autopista de Sol from San José to Caldera and another smaller road project in Escazú.

The Laboratorio Nacional de Materiales y Modelos Estructurales of the Universidad de Costa Rica will be empowered by a new law, said Casa Presidencial. The lab has been deeply involved in the problems with the Caldera highway but also has been called on in the past to check the quality of concrete and asphalt for other projects.

Lawmakers from the Comisión Legislativa de Concesiones visited Casa Presidencial Wednesday night, and President Laura Chinchilla asked them for support in passing the law. The Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes and the Consejo Nacional de Concesiones do not have the expertise to supervise public works projects, lawmakers were told. The university lab will provide oversight and technical expertise, they were told.

Francisco Jiménez, heads the public works ministry but also
is president of the national concessions council. He said that corrective measures were under way with the Caldera highway. Still he said that the ministry’s limited budget made it hard to find people who would work for the salary offered in the areas of budgeting, auditing and management.

Both Jiménez and President Chinchilla are latecomers to the Caldera highway problems, The highway was opened late in the administration of former president Óscar Arias Sánchez, and the Chinchilla administration inherited the situation.

The project has become a political issue where opposition lawmakers can blame both Arias and Ms. Chinchilla.

The steep cuts through which the Caldera highway runs have been dropping rocks and mud on the highway. One woman motorcyclist died. At other points the ground has slipped and officials had to put in emergency bridges. Workmen have tried to ease the slopes and to install wire mesh to catch rocks and sheets of concrete to keep rocks and dirt from slipping.

Jiménez noted that some 11 kilometers of the highway would be closed. The stretch is between Atenas and Orotina. The management of Autopista del Sol will be doing corrective work and tolls will be suspended.

The company also is subject to fines.

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