PEDESTRIANIZING THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD

Costa Rica 2017 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Carlos Villalta Villegas, Minister of Public Works and Transport (MOPT), on improving public transport, overcoming hardship, and reducing urban congestion.

Carlos Villalta Villegas
BIOGRAPHY
Carlos Villalta Villegas has a bachelor’s in civil engineering, a master’s in project management, and 20 years of professional experience in the road sector. He worked at the National Laboratory of Materials and Structural Models of the University of Costa Rica (LanammeUCR) and worked for the National Roads Authority for eight years as an engineer, project quality assurance manager, and advisor to the executive management. He has also worked in the private sector, where he was director of road projects and an infrastructural consultant for the Inter-American Development Bank. He is President of the College of Civil Engineers of Costa Rica and Director of the Board of the Association of Engineers and Architects.

How does the MOPT's structure help bring projects to fruition?

The MOPT is important for the country. The MOPT has five assigned councils of which the Minister is the President of the Board of Directors. These entities include the National Council for Highway Administration (CONAVI), the Technical Council of Civil Aviation (CETAC), the Public Transport Council (CTP), the Road Safety Council (COSEVI), and the National Council of Concessions (CNC). We are conducting important negotiations to update a few studies on transit demand for a concession that is going to be revisited, stretching from San Jose to Cartago. Some smaller ports located in Golfito are undergoing updated studies between construction projects. The CTP has two important projects, one of which is focused on eliminating many cars in downtown San Jose and improving the public transport service in order to change the service and reduce the number of cars and buses entering the area. The other project is an electronic payment system, which could potentially enable users to pay with cards while allowing us to obtain information through the system and observe the behavior related to the tariff regime. CONAVI is now implementing a program of road infrastructure financed by the BID for USD300 million. CONAVI also has extremely important projects, such as the construction of the Cañas-Liberia road to connect Pozuelo to Jardines del Recuerdo in Heredia, the road in San Carlos, and other key access points. No less important is this ministry, which will start on a USD450 million transport infrastructure program.

What are some takeaways from closing CONAVI and creating a new National Institute of Infrastructure?

At the moment, it is in the Legislative Assembly. This ministry made a proposal, but before I began my charge. The new institution wants to have a different remuneration to make wages more competitive. It is a good project, and we have had some strong reactions or denials of the project and other positions that are also important.

Besides infrastructure, what is the main challenge facing Costa Rica, and how is the Government working to overcome it?

We have a lot of potential, many requirements, and competent people; however, there are many problems, and we have to look for a solution. We have an excess of controls that at times delay the execution of works. It is these kinds of constraining conditions that need to be overcome, so we have been identifying laws and decrees to improve ourselves. From the national perspective, it is a big task because the country has great potential for investores. Under these conditions, however, investors resign themselves and lose interest in Costa Rica. It is necessary to make these adjustments in order to be more competitive.

What are some of the Ministry's goals for the next year?

There are significant projects that will be given to developers next year, such as the San José-San Ramon road, which is an important road for the country. We are going to have contracting processes from both the construction company and the companies that will monitor the fulfillment of the contract. Equally, the contract for a road to Limon province has already been awarded to a Chinese company, which will be in charge of the construction of a 100km extension to the road. In addition, all the infrastructure works are going to arise in transport, which will be strategically significant for the country.