Whether you’re driving in San Juan, Caguas, Toa Alta, or AÃ±asco, we can all agree that most of the roads in Puerto Rico are in dire need of repairs. Uneven sidewalks, potholes galore, lack of road signs, recurring flooding during heavy rains and many dark roads at night mean that driving is a challenge for most local residents.
It might be hard to believe, but it’s been almost four years since Hurricane Maria devastated the island and its infrastructure, and yet government officials are still dealing with much of that damage.
The good news is that help is on the way, as the federal government continues to allocate millions of transportation funds to help Puerto Rico, along with all 50 states, improve the nation’s vital transportation infrastructure.
Funding and much needed construction work will also be a boon to the local economy.
Island Transport Secretary Eileen VÃ©lez Vega confirmed THE WEEKLY NEWSPAPER that the agency, known as DTOP from its Spanish acronym, is recruiting local companies as subcontractors for its multiple reconstruction projects, thus rebounding positively on the local economy.
Earlier this month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced another round of $ 299 million to rebuild the island’s roads and bridges. Regarding this recent allocation, the secretary indicated that there are 100 projects across the island for permanent works, for which 22 local companies have been subcontracted through a request for proposal (RFP) process to submit their bids for respective design.
âThe other projects are in the process of being designed. Other funds still to be committed include the two categories: design projects and projects ready to start construction, âshe said, adding that $ 13 million has already been identified for projects that do not require design.
VÃ©lez acknowledged residents’ concerns about the slow pace of reconstruction work, as many roads were severely damaged by Maria in September 2017, but she noted that the agency had carried out emergency work as part of the phase. recovery, such as the installation of road signs, safety fences and reflectors, as well as the fight against landslides.
âProjects have already been launched. I can cite you, for example, the 770 highway project in Barranquitas, which is a bridge that was affected by Hurricane Maria, âsaid VÃ©lez. âIn the coming weeks, calls for tenders will be launched for this project in order to begin construction. “
The secretary said the agency is committed to improving the island’s transport infrastructure with “safe and well-maintained roads”.
Landslides, which are a top priority for the DTOP, are particularly time consuming due to bureaucratic processes. For example, obtaining the appropriate permits to begin the necessary works if the landslide reaches private property or if the agency needs to enter private property to acquire the land, explained Edwin GonzÃ¡lez Montalvo, executive director of Road and Transportation. Authority (RTA) of DTOP.
In addition, approximately $ 150 million of the nearly $ 502 million in FEMA transportation funding was allocated to emergency projects, which provided temporary assistance to road infrastructure affected by the 2017 hurricane. GonzÃ¡lez clarified that the RTA has transferred $ 241 million of its approved funding to the Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division (EFLHD) – a branch of the Federal Highway Administration – while the remaining $ 260 million is to be used by the RTA.
âOf the 260 million dollars that the [RTA] a, $ 237 million has already been committed and $ 23 million remains to be committed. And of the 237 million dollars already committed, 178 million dollars have been disbursed, âhe said.
While the Executive Director noted that the EFLHD has fallen behind in the execution of reconstruction projects, he assured that “we have been in constant communication with them and that they have received instructions to carry out several of these projects “. Some of these include “multiple offers,” he said, such as those to provide signs along the PR-52, PR-53 and PR-1, 2 and 3 roads.
As for President Joe Biden’s titanic infrastructure plan, GonzÃ¡lez claimed it would increase RTA’s annual budget from $ 238 million to around $ 340 million, according to information gathered during his meetings with the resident commissioner. Jenniffer GonzÃ¡lez and the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration in Washington, CC
The increase would allow the entity to redistribute its budget to the various segments that were carried over for insufficient funds. “In other words, if there were projects that we could not carry out because the funds were limited, now we can move that money to be able to carry out the necessary projects,” he said.
More FEMA funds allocated
FEMA announced that to date, the federal agency has committed nearly $ 299 million to DTOP to repair damage and optimize state roads and bridges across the island. This includes nearly $ 92 million approved in 2021 to address infrastructure in nearly 30 municipalities. The bonds represent ongoing work projects to remediate more than 250 damaged areas on Puerto Rico‘s roads and bridges.
One item that deals with road safety is the replacement and installation of thousands of traffic signs that were touched by Maria. To this end, FEMA has allocated more than $ 28.3 million for a 238 highway sign replacement project in Puerto Rico, stretching 496 miles from San Juan to Aguadilla.
DTOP reported that more than 300 signs and posts have been removed, while the installation of signs and plaques exceeds 3,000 units. The installation of signs in the Ponce and Guayama regions will begin soon, while the manufacturing of signs for the Humacao region continues. The production of road signs represents a positive impact on the manufacturing sector, since some are carried out by entrepreneurs in Humacao, Guayama, MayagÃ¼ez and Ponce.
In addition, more than $ 3.5 million has been allocated to repair several roads in the central part of the island. This obligation includes $ 1.8 million to rebuild three segments of the PR-612 in Utuado, including a three-span bridge that suffered severe damage and serves as a main road for residents of the Don Alonso and Caonillas Abajo neighborhoods. It also includes $ 1.6 million to repair nine segments of the PR-531 at Jayuya.
Likewise, more than $ 4.7 million has been allocated to DTOP to repair several sections of PR-742 and PR-738 in Cayey. In addition, repairs will be carried out on the PR-7731 road in Cidra, which provides access to main roads and shops for approximately 9,000 residents of the Carite, Vegas, Montellano and Quebrada Arriba neighborhoods.
As of March 2021, work on 42 transport projects was already underway on the island, with an investment estimated at $ 108.7 million, according to government officials. Among the municipalities benefiting from these road repairs were Jayuya, Yauco, Maricao and Barranquitas.
Under a decree signed by Governor Pedro Pierluisi in March 2021, construction crews working on federally funded projects are now paid a minimum wage of $ 10.95 per hour. Puerto Rico‘s minimum wage rate is $ 7.25 an hour, which is the same as the federal minimum rate.
Invest in America Act
Meanwhile, President Biden continues to tout his massive infrastructure plan and support for social services for families, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, saying they will boost economic growth and help the middle class. Speaking at the White House, the president called his plans a “blue collar plan to rebuild the US economy … It is the best strategy to create millions of jobs and raise middle class families, increase wages and keep prices affordable for a long time â. term, âas cited by The Associated Press.
HR 3684 Invest in America Act was passed in the United States House on July 1, by a bipartisan vote of 221-201. The bill is a $ 715 billion surface transportation and water infrastructure reauthorization bill, with over $ 44 billion added during the amendment process to make even larger investments in infrastructure, including all-electric vehicle (EV) charging and rail passenger subsidy programs, among other additions. .
“The American people are fed up with potholes, traffic jams, slow buses and trains, back-up lead-contaminated pipes and sewers, the result of decades of underinvestment in our infrastructure,” our communities and our future. The good news is that this is an American problem that America can solve, âsaid Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chair of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
The bill has passed the US Senate, which is evaluating its own version of the measure.
The US House bill included âtransit specificâ allowances across the country. For Puerto Rico, local transportation projects estimated at $ 52.4 million have been included. Among them, the extension of Avenida Ãngel Castro PÃ©rez (PR-122) between San GermÃ¡n and Lajas; works on the road links between Gurabo and Trujillo Alto; and various improvements on PR-2 (kms 9.0 and 10.0) PR-6 (km 0.0 to 0.3).