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The End Of Gridlock


September 2, 2004
Copyright © 2004 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

We’re moving in the right direction. It’s just that we’ll be late getting there.

That pretty much summarizes the daily frustration of the average driver in Puerto Rico. It’s also an apt analogy for the status of the island’s road system.

In the past 35 years, Puerto Rico has made incredible progress in terms of road, highway, and, now, rail infrastructure. We’ve been moving in the right direction but unfortunately much slower than we should’ve been.

There are 2.5 million registered vehicles crisscrossing this island of 3,500 square miles on 10,563 linear miles of paved roads. Puerto Rico’s vehicle density exceeds Manhattan’s!

As if that weren’t enough, local consumers buy an average of 125,000 new vehicles every year. Although many of those are to replace cars that are taken out of circulation, statistics show the total number of vehicles has roughly doubled every 20 years.

It all adds to one inescapable reality: We must concentrate our time, efforts, and resources on developing mass-transportation alternatives not only in the San Juan metro area but around Puerto Rico as well.

"We must dedicate all of our efforts to mass transit; it’s our only salvation," Department of Transportation & Public Works (DTOP) Secretary Fernando Fagundo told us. He is right.

The soon-to-be-inaugurated Urban Train is, of course, a step in the right direction. Proposals for extending that system first to Caguas and then to Carolina are right on target, too. However, that will help only the metro area. The proposal to develop a rail system around Puerto Rico is a visionary project that must be done.

Starting with the construction of the island’s first toll highway from San Juan to Ponce under the Ferre administration, the past three decades have seen the development of our strategic road network come almost to completion. Modern highways have been built alongside the old Spanish roads linking San Juan to Ponce through Caguas; San Juan to Ponce through Fajardo and Humacao in the east; and San Juan to Ponce through Arecibo, Aguadilla, and Mayaguez in the west. Thousands of secondary and tertiary roads have also been developed to complement that network of highways. Yet, it hasn’t been enough to keep up with the growth of our population.

Despite the tiresome criticism of self-proclaimed environmentalists who complain every time a new road is built, the fact is all of that road infrastructure is needed. Just ask the general public whether they’d give up their car–their only viable means of transportation to earn a living–to protect the environment. Anyway, the notion that DTOP and its subsidiary Highway & Transportation Authority (HTA), under any government administration, build roads without planning and without consideration of the environment is ludicrous. There’s a lot of construction in Puerto Rico that is poorly planned, but our road network isn’t one of the culprits.

In any event, it’s time to redefine DTOP as a mass-transportation agency. As DTOP and the HTA fulfill the main function they’ve had for the past 35 years–building the island’s road network–they should now concentrate on developing more and better mass-transportation alternatives.

In fact, most transportation experts, including Fagundo, point to the abandonment of the old train route in the 1950s as a big mistake that fueled a dependency on and an attachment to personal vehicles. As the island developed economically and its population grew, the absence of viable mass-transportation alternatives required us all, government and citizenry, to turn to the car.

The idea of a train around the island isn’t new. During the Ferre administration, the idea was conceived to develop a train that would follow the route of the old train, which circled the island through the coastal lowlands when sugar was king.

Such a train not only would be an alternative for passenger transportation, thus helping to alleviate our traffic woes, but also would provide a much-needed alternative for the transportation of cargo, which today goes on trucks that tear up our roads.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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