Question of cost for Limón widening job comes up again

The question of cost has come up again as a legislative commission studies a proposal to hire Chinese firms to widen a section of Ruta 32 near Limón.

Manrique Oviedo Guzmán, a legislator of the Partido Acción Ciudadana, issued another statement Wednesday in which he said that the price the country was ready to pay for the highway job was $165 million too high. He based his comments on a Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo estimate provided by a private firm. The lawmaker has raised the issue in the past.

The highway job is now in the political realm because a candidate of the Partido Liberación Nacional and Acción Ciudadana are to meet in a presidential runoff April 6. Liberación Nacional backs the project.

The $465.6 million project would make Ruta 32 four lane from Limón to Rio Frio, some 107.2  kilometers, a little more than 66 miles. Legislative action is required to approve two loans the Chinese would make to pay for the project. The contractor is a Chinese state firm that has faced corruption allegations and has been blacklisted by the World Bank.

The Export–Import Bank of China would make two loans, one for $100 million and one for $296 million. Costa Rica is putting up $90 million, including an extra $20 million for expropriating property and relocating public services. The larger loan would be at 4 percent interest, and the smaller one at 2 percent.

Costa Rica would have a five-year grace period before any repayment is due, and the term of the loan would be 15 years after that.

The proposal is now in the Comisión de Asuntos Hacendarios,  and those who favor the deal are trying to get the measure reported out for a floor vote by the full legislature.

Liberatión lawmakers responded to the renewed allegations Wednesday with a press conference in which Limón community leaders and representatives of the nation’s highway agency gave support to the bill.

The Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo study was by a Mexican firm, Cal y Mayor, which said that the price should be lower. However, supporters have said that because plans have not been drawn up figuring an actual cost is just guesswork.

In addition to road work, there are a number of bridges and overpasses to be constructed.

There would be no bidding in this contract. The award would be direct to the China Harbour Engineering Co. Group and China Road and Bridge Corp. under terms of the Chinese loans.

Oviedo said that the extra money the country would pay would be enough for two hospitals for Limón or to build two and a half national stadiums.  The stadium was a gift from China.

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