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Author Topic: Costa Rica Observations  (Read 2701 times)

doorknob60

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Costa Rica Observations
« on: May 28, 2015, 01:19:18 PM »

I recently took a trip to Costa Rica (as a group, using a bus for transportation). I was unable to drive on the roads myself, but I was able to make some observations of the roads regardless. This post isn't really organized, I'll just list things I noticed that I can think of.

  • The speed limits are often low, and people tend to completely ignore them. Like, I have a new perspective on Oregon's speed limits now. In Oregon, people pay attention to the speed limit, and consciously go 10-15 over. In Costa Rica, they might as well not exist. On 2 lane highways, the maximum speed seemed to be 80 km/h. On many highways it never got above 60 km/h. These limits are too low. Even on the highways with a 60 km/h, the speed limit on these highways in most US states would be 55 (~90 km/h). I've also noticed the speed limit often drops for short times near intersections, or going through towns (no matter how small). Like it may drop from 80 to 60 or 40 for what seems like no reason. People seem to ignore these drops. The highest speed limit I saw was 90 km/h, on some of the freeways around San Jose, though I've heard there are highways with a 100 km/h limit.
  • Related to the last one, road work speed zones. It seems to be a constant 30 km/h in all work zones. There is a very long work zone on Route 1 from Canas to at least Bagaces, where they are adding a second carraige way to make a 4 lane divided highway. All traffic is currently on one half of the freeway, as a standard 2 lane highway. The speed limit is 30 km/h the whole way. Everyone was doing 80 km/h (which was the limit on the 2 lane segments outside the work zone). In the US, the speed limit in a work zone like this would be anywhere from 45 (Oregon) to 65 (Idaho) mph.
  • Passing zones. Some highways have almost no passing zones, and desperately need them. Route 2 between Cartago and San Isidro de El General is the most obvious choice. There are very few (if any) dedicated passing lanes, and it's such a windy road that it is a double solid yellow line the whole way. Drivers ignore that. If they want to pass, they'll pass, regardless of signage and pavement markings. On highways like this, it's honestly necessary, because you can get stuck behind a truck going 30 km/h up a hill, and you could be stuck behind them for dozens of miles if you waited for a legal passing opportunity. This highway, for the record, goes over a 10,942 feet pass, so plenty of passing is needed.
  • Many highways that would be paved in the US are unpaved in Costa Rica. The unpaved highways are generally decent in quality, but there are a lot of them. On Google Maps, the highways in yellow seem to be paved in my experience, while the highways marked with white or grey lines (except within the larger cities like San Jose) are generally unpaved. There are definitely some exceptions to this (CR-239 seems to be unpaved but yellow, though I didn't drive on this; CR-223 is paved but white), but that can give you a general overview of what I noticed. Also the main routes (the ones with shields that look like US shields, with 1/2 digit numbers) all seem to be paved.
  • Many routes seems to be not well signed by their number, but more using control cities. You'll get to an intersection and have a sign with 3ish cities listed and arrows pointed in the appropriate direction. On the major (1/2 digit) highways, route numbers seem to be more prevalent, but still not to the extent as in the US.
  • There is no Google Street view anywhere in this country. Very unfortunate
  • It is also much harder to find information about highways and cities here on the internet. In the US, every town and highway seems to have a Wikipedia page. Not at all for Costa Rica. I couldn't find any Wiki pages for highways, and only the larger cities had Wiki pages. Not what I'm used to.

If anyone has any questions, I'd love to try to answer them. I may come back and add more information as I think of it.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2015, 01:25:24 PM by doorknob60 »
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Bickendan

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Re: Costa Rica Observations
« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2015, 02:38:27 PM »

You mention freeways. Google makes it seem like the country's devoid of them, OSM shows only trunk highways, and the MQ layer shows them but using the Michelin symbology, so it's hard to tell when it's a legitimate freeway vs. expressway with at grades.


How would you rank them?
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doorknob60

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Re: Costa Rica Observations
« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2015, 03:40:36 PM »

You mention freeways. Google makes it seem like the country's devoid of them, OSM shows only trunk highways, and the MQ layer shows them but using the Michelin symbology, so it's hard to tell when it's a legitimate freeway vs. expressway with at grades.


How would you rank them?

I only spent a few days in the San Jose area. There are a few roads I'd consider freeways that I've been on. Like, CR-1 from somewhere near downtown San Jose to near the Airport, and CR-2 from Curridabat to Cartago. They aren't "Interstate quality", but they are 4+ lane, limited access, divided highways with grade separated intersections. I'll call them freeways. There aren't many divided/limited access highways outside of San Jose metro. I do find it annoying that Google Maps doesn't have an easy way to distinguish between highway types. A yellow line can mean a gravel road or a freeway. OSM is definitely more useful in that regard (as it often is in the US as well). The line between the green trunk highway and the blue freeway in OSM has always been ambiguous to me and others, so I'm not exactly sure what I'd classify Costa Rica's "freeways" as. Parts of CR-27 are also more of a Super 2 than a full freeway (changes to 4 lane divided at interchanges, but 2 lanes undivided in between), but still show as a trunk highway on OSM.

Here is an article I found regarding the upgrade to a freeway on CR-1 from Canas to Liberia: http://www.ticotimes.net/2014/07/03/transport-ministry-says-canas-liberia-highway-expansion-will-help-local-businesses-but-residents-are-wary . I noticed driving through that they are building an elevated viaduct right on top of the old highway through the middle of Canas. You'd never see that today in the US.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2015, 04:01:48 PM by doorknob60 »
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rschen7754

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Re: Costa Rica Observations
« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2015, 01:01:36 AM »


It is also much harder to find information about highways and cities here on the internet. In the US, every town and highway seems to have a Wikipedia page. Not at all for Costa Rica. I couldn't find any Wiki pages for highways, and only the larger cities had Wiki pages. Not what I'm used to.


Central America's highway coverage on Wikipedia is not very good. I keep a table with a survey of each country's coverage here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Highways/Countries

I have been to Costa Rica and do have some pictures, so maybe one day I'll get at least something written about them (that is, if I ever finish cleaning up California...)
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StogieGuy7

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Re: Costa Rica Observations
« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2015, 02:28:53 PM »

Yes, there are freeways in Costa Rica.  The most recently constructed one is Route 27, a super-two toll road from San Jose to the Pacific.  The eastern end of this road (near Santa Ana and Escazu) is six lanes.  However, freeways in CR have narrower lanes than we're used to and (something not unique in Latin America), bus stops on freeway shoulders.  That is, where there are shoulders.  Not all limited access highways have them. 

A couple more notes about highways in Costa Rica: at some points, the speed limits are as high as 100 km/h (the Carretera Interamericana between Puntarenas and Liberia comes to mind, despite not being a freeway).  Many tolled roads are not limited access.  And, Costa Rica's roads are, in general, poorly maintained.  Repaving of a road literally involves a 1/3" thick layer of new asphalt being laid on top of whatever substrate is below.  If there were holes before, they're hastily filled in with gravel and paved over in this manner.  And they return quickly during the rainy season (April-November). Even the new toll road to Caldera was constructed with such haste (after a 40 year delay) that it gets washed out during every rainy season and is constantly being pieced back together.  It's less than 10 years old.   

For gringoes who intend to drive down there, make sure that you have your passport with you at all times while driving.  A copy of the main page and the page with your visa stamp will suffice.  If you don't have them, you will either get a fine or perhaps an opportunity to buy the officer "lunch".  And "lunch" is a lot more expensive for foreigners than it is for natives.  When driving, beware of the transit police hiding under a tree with a radar gun.  If he sees someone who looks like a foreign tourist, the speed limit may not have any leeway at all.  I've even experienced one of these guys lying about the speed limit in order to extract a bribe.   And DO NOT drive and talk on a cell phone.  That's illegal.  Lastly, if you are involved in an accident, do not move the cars until the cops arrive!  Doing so will basically invalidate your side of the story.

Traffic in the country has vastly outgrown the infrastructure and, given that there are often limited options to drive from point A to point B, the traffic can be horrendous.  For example, there are only 2 ways to get from San Jose to the international airport and one of those ways requires local knowledge - it's neither easy nor is it marked.  When something happens on that one road you need, you could be in for trouble.   Also, there are rules around San Jose that limit the vehicles that are allowed on and within the Route 39 "circumvalacion".  This is based on the last numeral of your license plate - every car has one day per week when they are forbidden on the roads within this perimeter.  Keep this in mind if you travel there.  Not a problem though if you're headed from the airport to the beach or will not be going into San Jose itself (which is not one of the country's highlights anyhow.
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Pete from Boston

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Costa Rica Observations
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2018, 02:13:04 PM »

I just spent more time driving in Costa Rica than I ever have before. I've spent about a month total down there but this time I really just wandered off and on the beaten path.

One thing that hasn't been mentioned here is the highway to Limón, Route 32.  Limón is the country's biggest Caribbean container port, if not the biggest altogether, and leading out of that city the road is utterly choked with container trucks.  Like nearly all highways outside of San José, it is one lane in either direction, limited passing areas.

A lot of this congestion is because it is lined with container yards on either side of the road for about 10 km west.  West of there it opens up, but it doesn't take much to cause a backup.  Speeds average between 60 and 80 km/h, occasionally higher where conditions allow.

This is all pretty manageable until you get to the start of the incline up the volcanoes outside of San José.  For something like 20 km you're climbing 4 or 5,000 feet, and while there are passing lanes, the stretches between them can be brutal.  This is still the main route for that shipping traffic to reach the capital area.  Costa Rica's only vehicular tunnel is at the summit, in Braulio Carillo National Park.

I have read articles from several years ago that a Chinese firm won a contract to upgrade this entire road to four lanes.  But estimates rose and the contract quickly fell into dispute, and I don't think anything has been done.

What's interesting is that there is a rail line out to Limón and I can't tell if it gets any use at all.  Costa Rica's rail system was in such bad shape that it was completely shut down in 1995, and only a few segments have been reopened since.  The terminal facility in the center Limón is overgrown and crumbling.  It seems to me this line could be beneficial in taking freight traffic off that highway, but that is a very casual observation.
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