Region, Nicoya

An Abandoned Friendship: Thieves are Stealing the Tempisque River Bridge, Piece by Piece

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The bridge that at one point represented friendship between Taiwan and Costa Rica nowadays is a symbol of neglect, theft and vandalism by criminals who are removing pieces of the bridge and its accessories for personal use or to sell as scrap metal.

The formerly magnificent viaduct that connects the cantons of Cañas and Nicoya is now the victim of continuous robberies by those looking for a piece of metal or iron, screws, rails or whatever they can carry. It is literally being stolen, piece by piece.

At night, the structure’s lighting is limited, as there are only a few lamps that have been left behind by criminals and have not yet been broken. The bridge is also marked with graffiti, including messages about amorous adventures, tarnishing the edifice’s image.

Most worrisome is that during the 11 years since its construction, Taiwan’s donation has never received maintenance from the government of Costa Rica. 

In August of this year, a group of engineers from the National Laboratory of Structural Materials and Models (LANAMME – Laboratorio Nacional de Materiales y Modelos Estructurales), along with MOPT officials, decided to visit the structure, following repeated complaints from users who travel on the bridge daily who are concerned by the robberies and deterioration.

During the inspection, the engineers discovered exposed steel, deterioration in the concrete and neglect in the moorings’ access area. However, the most significant damage is the serious deterioration of the expansion joint, a plate that is seven meters (23 feet) in diameter that joins the bridge’s two platforms at the center of the viaduct. If the expansion joint does not receive maintenance soon, it could cause functional problems in the future that would create traffic accidents.

Roy Barrantes, coordinator of LANAMME’s bridge unit, explained that this joint should be inspected every two years, to verify its condition and schedule maintenance. However, in eleven years of existence, it has never been touched, for which reason it has reached the end of its useful life and represents a risk to those travelling on the bridge.

 “We could say that this plate is a trench across the two lanes, that joins the bridge’s two sections. It measures about seven meters and has been damaged by continuous vehicle traffic and also by the earthquakes that the bridge has withstood,” said Barrantes, adding, “The serious thing is that if it isn’t repaired, it could cause traffic accidents.”

Added to those issues, Fernando Arriola, an official with MOPT’s emergency unit who was present for the inspection, reported that they also noticed the theft of more than 40 pieces of the bridge, as well as more than 300 screws and washers that are no longer there.

Photo by Ariana Crespo. The deterioration of the plate, caused by passing vehicles and some earthquakes, is impossible to ignore.

“What worries us most is the theft of accessories on the bridge, above all the pipes, which are structures [along the sides of the bridge] that stop vehicles in case of a crash and prevent them from falling off,” said Arriola.

Below the bridge, on the structure’s base, there is a rectangular shape that suggests the previous existence of a gate that was probably made of metal and apparently was irresistible for vandals. Within this dark room, which connects to the inner structure, there are now countless bats and mosquitoes, as well as the smell of trash and urine.

For his part, Arriola pointed out that, because access to the internal part of the structure is exposed, the damage could be accelerated as well as the theft of steel. The official also indicated this was the first time that the emergency unit had performed an inspection of the structure.

The good news, according to Arriola, is that the structure is solid and safe. However, he called on residents to be responsible and vigilant about the state of the bridge. “We want to call on everyone who travels on the bridge to denounce those who steal or damage the bridge,” he commented.

For her part, Gabriela Contreras, director of the press department for LANAMME, explained that this was a preliminary visit and that in coming months they will continue to do more inspections of the bridge. Also, she said that they will follow up on a report done in 2005 by the Federated College of Engineers and Architects (CFIA – Colegio Federado de Ingenieros y Arquitectos) to arrive at a more in-depth analysis of the materials.

In the same way, Arriola indicated that a report on the inspection has been drawn up and was sent to CONAVI and to Carlos Segnini, minister of MOPT. However, he said that they have still not received a response.

The Voice of Guanacaste also tried to contact Reynaldo Mata, the CONAVI engineer in charge of the Guanacaste region, but as of when this edition went to print he had not responded to calls to his cell phone.        

​Gráphic by Pixel Negro – Photos by Ariana Crespo – source: LANAMME / MOPT