A faulty pipe fails and creates a gigantic mess

The humor site El Infierno de Costa Rica did not wait long before publishing touched up photos. One showed Óscar Arias Sánchez cutting a ribbon as if to inaugurate the big hole on the highway. Here the Super Mario Brothers celebrate.

A unique series of circumstances Wednesday turned the Central Valley road network into a parking lot, made tourists miss their flights home and led to the cancellation of classes today and tomorrow at many schools.

The initial cause was a 30-year-old galvanized corrugated steel culvert that collapsed under the westbound lanes of the General Cañas highway at Los Arcos.

The ensuing traffic jam resulted in delays of up to two hours, significant loses in product deliveries and embarrassed the Cámara de Industrias de Costa Rica with a pall of vehicle exhaust over the Central Valley. The chamber is holding a two-day environmental conference.

Crews were working last night to erect a bailey bridge over the hole but it was unlikely that they would finish by morning rush hour. An attempt to smash through the concrete barrier between the eastbound and westbound lanes failed Wednesday afternoon when workmen ran into utility lines there.

Transport officials suggested alternate routes, such as the one through Heredia and Ruta 27, the Caldera highway. But these highways filled up quickly and contributed to the jam. In addition there was a truck accident on Ruta 32 that goes north from San José. Motorists were using that route to go into northern Heredia and then west.

For today, the Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes is prohibiting trucks during peak hours and giving special consideration to buses. Bus stops near the problem area also are suspended.

The highway began to give way late Tuesday. The resulting round hole has a 20-foot diameter and is about 12 feet deep. Highway workers will have to excavate much more soil to make the repair because they will have to replace the offending drainage system. Transport officials said Wednesday that the pipe should have been replaced sooner. Rains drove a tree trunk into the pipe to cause the collapse, said officials.

Late Wednesday traffic police were channeling automobiles off the General Cañas Highway at the Juan Pablo Secundo bridge at the La Uruca traffic circle and directing them through Heredia. That is the same route that was being used at night while workers resurfaced the westbound lanes. Buses and trucks were allowed to travel a little further before being diverted.

The traffic plan still is a work in progress, and what motorists will confront this morning still is uncertain. Much depends on progress with the bridge, which arrived disassembled on three flatbed trailers. The transport ministry also said workers were attempting to set up one westbound lane on the eastbound side of the highway. Utility workers had been called to reroute the various pipes and cables. That job was supposed to be finished by 5 a.m. today giving some relief to the detours.

When the peak traffic hour arrived Wednesday morning the operative word was chaos. There were not enough traffic policemen to handle the diversion, and motorists had to fend for themselves. One taxi driver said he spent an extra two hours taking a fare to Juan Santamaría airport Wednesday morning.

The Cámara Nacional de Turismo issued a statement Wednesday urging special consideration for airport-bound traffic.

The chamber reported that a United Airlines flight to Houston left at 11:45 a.m. without 40 passengers having checked in. Taca reported it delayed some flights to accommodate passengers

The chamber requested that the Dirección General de Policía de Tránsito set up a special route for drivers carrying tourists. The chamber said that tourists and other air travelers could present their passports to show they really were going to the airport. The traffic police have not yet responded to that request.

Traffic officials said that the highway handles some 100,000 vehicles a day.

The detours include travel on Ruta 27, the Caldera highway, to Belén or on the northbound Braulio Carrillo highway, Ruta 32, to Tibás and then to Santo Domingo de Heredia.

The routes through Heredia, either from the Braulio Carrillo or from the detour at the Juan Pablo Secundo bridge are two-lane and pass thought urban areas, There also is construction on the west end of the detour and even concrete barriers standing unmarked in the middle of the road.

The Instituto Costarricense de Ferrocarriles announced it was starting rail service earlier today at 5 a.m. and beginning the afternoon service at 3 p.m., also earlier than usual. Trains run from San José to Heredia Centro and the length of the valley from Belén to Curridabat.

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