SAN JOSE – The Costa Rica government announced that it is allocating $15 million for the reparation of 10 bridges, two days after a tragedy that took five lives and sparked a barrage of criticism against Public Works and Transportation Minister Karla Gonzalez.
The money will come from a $65 million World Bank loan approved this year for dealing with emergencies and which could be available to the Public Works and Transportation Ministry (MOPT) in the coming weeks, the office of the president said.
The country’s two leading newspapers launched Saturday strong criticism of Minister Gonzalez, seconded by members of the opposition who demanded her resignation due to the bad state of the bridge that collapsed last Thursday as a bus went over it.
The bus fell from the bridge, which dates back to the 1920s, into the Rio Grande de Tarcoles river in the rural village of Turrubares, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) west of San Jose, leaving five dead and 34 injured.
Some of the survivors told reporters that they heard a loud noise when the cables holding up the bridge broke and the next thing they knew the vehicle was in the water.
In its editorial Saturday, the daily La Nacion said that the bridge “collapsed under the weight, not of a bus, but of the fecklessness of a government incapable of setting priorities and taking care of even the most elemental security requirements.”
La Republica, also in its Saturday editorial, said that “this is a case in which a resignation should be considered” since “it isn’t possible to just turn the page and go on as before, when there are five people dead who would still be here if priority had been given to prevention, prudence, discipline and a heightened sense of responsibility.”
A report by the Japanese Cooperation Agency, which dates back to 2007, said that most of Costa Rica’s bridges were in bad condition due to the lack of maintenance and that at least 10 were in urgent need of repair.
The $15 million announced by the government Friday night will go chiefly to improving those 10 structures.
The inhabitants of Turrubares and the town council had asked on several occasions for the Public Works and Transportation Ministry to fix the wooden suspension bridge, but the authorities had never undertaken any repairs, according to reports in the local press.
The political opposition has called for the minister to resign. The Libertarian Movement Party, which in a communique blamed Gonzalez for “inefficiency in running the MOPT, accumulating an unpardonable string of mistakes.”
For its part, the Citizen Action Party asked President Oscar Arias in a communique to dismiss the minister “as being directly responsible for the fatal accident on the Rio Grande de Tarcoles river.”
Minister Gonzalez has defended herself, saying that approaching the bridge there is a sign banning heavy vehicles and apparently the structure was damaged the day before it fell by a truck that crashed into part of the bridge.