Every time Alicia Castro, who lives in the Santa Lucia neighborhood of Liberia, travels to the center of the canton by taxi, she has to go around by means of La Victoria Bridge and pay ¢1,000 (about $1.70) more than when she went by means of the Puente Real (Royal Bridge).
“On La Victoria, there is terrible road chaos due to not having the other access open,” related Castro, who is also president of her neighborhood’s development association. As a result, some 15,000 from different communities in the south of the canton could be affected.
The Puente Real (the Royal Bridge) in Liberia was declared a cultural heritage in 2011, and 2019 marks a year of it being closed to vehicles. According to the coordinator of the municipality’s Road Management Technical Unit, Dorian Ulate, the road surface over the bridge was in poor condition.
The mayor of the canton, Julio Viales, is still unsure if he will reopen the bridge to cars or if he will keep it closed. According to him, it is not safe to have it open. But the Heritage Center blames the municipality for the bridge being in poor condition because they completely renovated the bridge in 2013.
But beyond the arguments between institutions, the neighbors need a solution. They themselves approached the city with a plan to install bridges at other parts of the canton and improve road flow.
Even so, the uncertainty about the future of the bridge does not seem to have a solution in the short term since the mayor says that he does not see a future for the neighbors’ initiative and that he worries that users would be in danger if it were reopened.
Recently I went and saw cracks that I have no idea how far they go,” Viales explained to this media. “Some elements have lost material due to corrosion and may have large ductile failures [due to pressure from the vehicles],” he said.
The engineer for the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation (MOPT), Maria Ramirez, has even stronger criteria.
“The bridge has a series of deficiencies for both pedestrian and vehicular use,” she said by telephone. “The structure was built many years ago and does not comply with seismic design, nor does it have sufficient live load capacity (how much weight the bridge can hold),” Ramirez commented.
Because of this, the Technical Unit decided that it will hire an auditor to find out the state of the bridge. With the results, the mayor will decide whether to open it or keep it closed.
The bridge that is more than one hundred years old is not only an efficient means of connecting the north and south sides of the canton, but also has historic value for the country: a good part of the economic and political development of Guanacaste’s capital came through there in the first half of the twentieth century.
Some want to demolish it and build another in its place. For others, this bridge represents Liberia’s identity.
That is why they declared it a heritage in 2011, and in 2013, the Ministry of Culture invested about ¢100 million (about $170,0000 now) in its structural reinforcement: they strengthened the bastions, scraped off the rust from some parts, replaced damaged parts and changed the bearing part.
According to the director of heritage, Diego Melendez, the infrastructure was in optimal conditions for use. But six years later, the bridge shows no trace of the large investment.
The only problem the bridge has is the lack of investment by the Municipality. [With proper maintenance] the bridge is totally safe, even for light vehicles and ambulances to cross it,” Melendez commented, expressing his opinion.
In fact, the Costa Rican Architectural Historical Heritage Law indicates that the owner of the heritage property must maintain it, which in this case is the municipality of Liberia.
However, the coordinator of the Technical Unit, Dorian Ulate, affirmed that the municipality invested around ¢2.5 million (about $4200) in maintenance between 2016 and 2018.
“The municipality intervenes on this bridge at least once a year by changing the planks that are in poor condition and securing bolts that are loose,” Ulate indicated in a report presented to the municipality on June 13, 2019.
Restoring the Puente Real could cost more than ¢134 million (about $225,000), according to another report made in May 2019 by MOPT engineer Maria Ramirez.
Neighbors Look for Solutions
In June this year, the people who live in the neighborhoods of southern Liberia, together with the Development Association of the Santa Lucia neighborhood, presented a proposal to the municipality that includes three bridge options as alternatives to the Puente Real.
One of the alternative bridges would be situated next to the current Puente Real, the others on Calle 6 by the Barrio Condega Plaza and on 1st Street half a block from El Bunker bar.
Castro, from the development association, thinks having better access to the center of Liberia is essential because that is where most of the essential services are: the Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS), the Enrique Baltodano Hospital, the municipal offices and the courts of justice.
Neighbors obtained the cooperation of investment project manager Jose Amilcar and road infrastructure engineer Wesser Matarrita, who prepared the document. The objective is to decongest the La Victoria bridge and improve mobility for these neighbors.
It is even a matter of social exclusion. That puts these communities that have a little more than 15,000 people at a disadvantage [due to access to services and businesses],” Amilcar commented.
The bridges would benefit the neighborhoods of San Miguel, Peloncito, Santa Lucía, La Arena, Los Camarenos, the Ciudad Blanca residential area, Daniel Oduber urbanization, Santa Luisa urbanization, La Cárcel, La Caraña and La Montañita.
The project presented by neighbors has an estimated cost for the bridges ranging from ¢800 million (some $1.3 million) to ¢1,300 million ($2.2 million). The mayor believes that the high cost of the bridges makes the options unrealistic.
However, Matarrita contradicts the mayor, pointing out that “construction of the bridge can be done in stages or, for example, with loans from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).”