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Ciudad Red: An idea whose time is long overdue


April 14, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

After many years of delays, it appears that not only the Urban Train is finally on the right track, but so are the planned community and commercial developments proposed for the areas adjacent to the train stations throughout the San Juan metro area. These transit-oriented developments are estimated to bring at least $400 million in new housing and commercial construction projects, contribute 16,000 direct jobs, and increase ridership on the Urban Train.

CARIBBEAN BUSINESS applauds the efforts of the new secretary of Transportation & Public Works, Gabriel Alcaraz, for supporting these projects and recognizing their value and importance to Puerto Rico’s economy. Unlike what often occurs after a change in government administration, Alcaraz has not discarded or ignored existing projects simply because they were proposed by a previous administration, which has happened so often in Puerto Rico over the past three decades and at a high cost to the island’s taxpayers.

The fact is the idea of transit-oriented development isn’t a new one. In 1971, after careful analysis by various local and federal government agencies, the administration of Gov. Luis A. Ferré determined the development of planned communities around the island combined with an islandwide mass-transit system was feasible and necessary in all social, economic, and physical aspects.

The project was the first attempt in the world to combine the development of new communities with a mass-transportation system that would connect them as they were developed to the major metro area. The train and planned communities development was a private and public joint venture with federal funding already identified by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which also supported the project.

The Transportation & Urban Settlements Combined Action project (known as Tusca) was hailed by the local and U.S. media as an innovative community development project. The project also had the professional input of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Urban Systems Laboratory; Kaiser Engineers of Oakland, Calif.; and Systems Planning Corp. of Pittsburgh, Penn.

Tusca included an islandwide transit system that would provide fast, frequent, and inexpensive service to existing and proposed activity centers, recreational and industrial areas, ports, and airports. The planned communities were envisioned as self-contained urban units providing a combination of balanced land-use, employment, and residential opportunities for all social and economic sectors distributed around Puerto Rico instead of the growth just in the San Juan metro area. The planned communities would eventually accommodate about half of the urban growth during the remainder of the 20th century.

Without the proposed mass-transit system and the planned communities to be developed adjacent to the train stations, then-president of the Planning Board, Enrique Soler Cloquell, predicted Puerto Rico faced a future of major gridlock on its highways and roads. More than three decades later Soler Cloquell’s words couldn’t have been more precise.

What happened to the Tusca project and to the effort, time, and resources that went into it? Puerto Rico politics happened. When there is a change of administration in Puerto Rico, especially from one party to another, projects of the outgoing administration are often discarded or simply ignored. The result is what was once hailed as one of the most innovative mass-transit and community development projects in the world hit a political dead end in Puerto Rico.

More than 30 years later, Puerto Rico’s Commonwealth government is still trying to get its mass-transit system and planned communities off the ground at a much higher cost. We can only hope these transit-oriented developments and the future extensions of the Urban Train are not confronted with many more obstacles, protests, or politics.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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