Permanent bridge at scene of tragedy due to be ready in August

The new bridge is two lanes. The temporary bailey bridge is on the right. The distance is about 410 feet over the Tárcoles, a major river. Engineers say the new span has a 25-year useful life.

A permanent bridge is about 80 percent complete over the Río Grande de Tárcoles between Orotina and Turrubares, according to the Consejo Nacional de Vialidad.

This is the spot where a hanging bridge gave way and dumped a bus and its passengers into the river Oct. 22, 2009. Five persons died. Officials eventually replaced the span with a steel bailey bridge. The new bridge replaces that temporary measure.

The hanging bridge was not just any bridge. This is a span that starred a year earlier in a Channel 7 “60 Minutes”-like presentation of terrible bridges. Even the bus involved in the crash was the feature of a television news sequence when a tire fell through the aging deck of the bridge and mechanics had to use hydraulic jacks to extricate it.

Those who died ranged from a 75-year-old man on his way to a medical appointment to a 30-year-old wife and mother.

The accident was a national scandal because there had been pleas to fix it from local officials, including one delivered just two weeks before the accident. The bridge basically was an aging wooden deck supported by cables.
The span originally was erected from 1920 to 1924. Engineers said that one of the two main suspension cables parted to cause the accident. There may have been structural damage to one of the anchor points of the cables.

Investigations showed that the bus company did not have permission to use that route. Eventually Karla González, who was public works minister at the time, faced criminal charges that were eventually dismissed. The tragedy highlighted the sorry state of the country’s roads and bridges and delivered a black eye to the Óscar Arias Sánchez administration.

The road agency spent 1.5 billion colons, about $3 million, to erect the new, two-lane bridge.

Officials expect to have the job done in August. Work was delayed when the effects of Hurricane Thomas in November 2010 caused the river to change its course slightly. The bridge underpinnings had to be redesigned, said the Consejo. Designers also raised the level of the bridge deck.

The new bridge is 125 meters or 410 feet long and it complies with all earthquake requirements, said the Consejo. The work that remains involves installing utilities, barriers and grading up to the accesses.

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