China Harbour finally gets green light to build $500m Costa Rica highway

Three years after Costa Rica began negotiating with the government of China over a loan to build a controversial $495m road project, the decision has been taken to go ahead with it.

The scheme in question is an extension of Route 32, and it will be built by the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC). The road runs from the capital of San Juan to the province of Limon on the Caribbean coast.

This is great news, mainly because it ends a process that took too long, and allows us to move on to the design-and-construction phases– Luis Guillermo Solis, Costa Rican president

As well as being extended by 107km, the highway will be expanded from two lanes to four. About 85% of the finance for the road will come from China, according to Zhou Jingxiong, a senior project manager at CHEC’s Costa Rican office, quoted by the Xinhua news agency.

The extension will include the construction of 26km of bike paths, 26km of secondary routes and five intersections at Río Frío, Guápiles, Siquirres, and two connections with the Moín cargo dock on the east coast.

It also includes the expansion and reinforcing of the route’s 36 bridges, the construction of 13 overpasses, 11 exits and 176 bus bays.

The project is expected to take 42 months: eight for design and 34 for construction.

Luis Guillermo Solis, the president of Costa Rica, hailed the decision at a press conference on Tuesday, 27 April. He said: "This is great news, mainly because it ends a process that took too long, and allows us to move on to the design-and-construction phases."

He added that the scheme was a fitting response to criticism that his administration was not investing enough in public infrastructure. He said: "We’re putting a lot of effort into these projects and trying to finish them on time so that people regain faith that Costa Rica isn’t stagnant."

The decision to press ahead was taken by the office of Costa Rica’s comptroller general, which endorsed the contract with CHEC.

The decision to give the contract to a Chinese company has been resisted by Costa Rica’s own contractors. In 2014 a group of national companies including Codocsa, Desarrollos Mega, Pedregal, Productos de Concreto and Traesa submitted a joint proposal to build the road. At the time, a representative of the group told the website that they would carry out a "100% national" project.

The expansion of Route 32 is regarded as vital by Costa Rica’s business sector, as 80% of the country’s exports leave through its Caribbean docks. According to the Public Works and Transport Ministry, an average of 14,000 vehicles transit the route every day.

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