Cuba Needs a Safe Nationwide Highway
Cuba Needs a Safe Nationwide Highway
May 8, 2016
Vicente Morin Aguado
HAVANA TIMES — “Three dead in road accident at Jatibonico. The crash
also injured 28 people and took place when a bus carrying tourists,
heading to Trinidad, collided with a truck” – Juventud Rebelde article,
April 3, 2016
That was the last major car accident to take place on Cuba’s central
highway. This highway is so dangerous that some bus drivers say this to
“If you want to arrive on time, please respect the time allotment for
our stops. We can’t really go any faster, we’ve got to cross the central
highway where cars are separated by a few centimeters and everyone’s
going fast. It’s like risking one’s life every minute and we want you to
arrive safely to your destination.”
The highway opened on February 24, 1931. It covers 1139 kilometers, from
Pinar del Rio to Santiago de Cuba, and it’s narrow 6 meters of width are
no match for the 21st century.
In the 1980s, an ambitious nationwide highway began to be built. It was
designed to have 6 to 8 lanes and a separator in the middle. The stretch
from Pinar del Rio to Havana and from there to Santa Clara was traced,
all the way to Taguasco. On the other end, some 45 kilometers of
mountainous terrain, the only obstacle in an otherwise level route, were
cleared, starting from Santiago de Cuba.
The work was suspended in 1990, when 495 kilometers of road had been
laid. The rest of the way, some 550 kilometers stretching from Santa
Clara and the vicinity of Palma Soriano, must be crossed using the
nearly-one-hundred-year-old road, where most accident-related deaths
take place in Cuba.
A section of the National Highway partially built in the 1980s.
On January 30, Granma and Juventud Rebelde newspapers published the
number of car accidents that took place in 2015. Half of the opinions
expressed are captured by these two comments:
“I think the biggest problem leading to accidents in Cuba is the poor
state of the roads. This isn’t mentioned in this report. If we continue
to make excuses for our problems, we’ll continue having accidents,
injuries and deaths.”
“I think the Cuban government must complete the national highway. The
large volume of tourists who visit the island is important and, to tell
the truth, they don’t have very good opinions about the roads.”
Why do we not yet have the indispensable national highway?
To date, the size of the investment and the limitations imposed by the
US embargo have been used to justify the precarious state of the
project. A brief analysis of the situation demonstrates the opposite.
Shocked by the tragic accident in Jatibonico, a reader suggested, “so as
not to ask for much, broadening the highway two lanes on both sides and
adding a dirt road at the side where carts, bicycles and tractors driven
by locals in these agricultural areas can circulate, since the famers
don’t have any other road they can use.” The partition down the middle
Calculating the cost of the previous proposal is complicated because
most of it would be made in Cuban pesos. That said, in 1988, the 6-lane
highway stretching from Havana to Pinar del Rio (some 170 kilometers
long) cost 650,000 pesos per kilometer. If we round the figure to a
million, factoring in the increase in the price of materials and the
narrowing of the highway, we get around 550 million pesos. If we did
this in the style of the new president, “slowly but surely,” and built
28 kilometers every year, the country would have had the modern highway
in 20 years.
If anyone is still swallowing that tripe about the lack of resources
caused by the notorious blockade, suffice it to recall the roads built
over the ocean.
Between 1987 and the early 2000s, some 172 km of highway was built on
rock embankments over the open sea and salt marshes, linking keys and
isles at the Jardines del Rey municipality, towards the north of the
provinces of Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila and Camaguey. Building
something that long over land would cost considerably less, and there’s
also the dubious financial soundness of the vast maritime bridges that
were built and their negative impact on the environment.
There are many tourist destinations in idyllic islands that have no need
of such artificial bridges. One needn’t leave Cuba to realize this, one
need only compare Cayo Coco and Cayo Largo.
The former was connected to the mainland by a 17-km road over the sea.
The shortest distance between Cayo Largo and the mainland is seven times
that, making any such bridge unthinkable. However, both destinations
have an international airport. In the Wikipedia article on the
destination, we read that, “since 2005, tourists can fly to the Cayo
Coco airport directly, rather than have to fly to the Cuban mainland.”
Both destinations are growing in terms of investments and visitors. Was
the super maritime highway necessary?
The megalomaniacal whim of the stone embankment highways entailed an
investment similar to the one required to build the nationwide highway.
It would be pointless to enumerate the economic benefits to be drawn
from such a highway.
The authorities address the immediate causes of accidents, but the root
problem does not concern them.
Cuba’s National Road Safety Commission published chilling statistics:
“during 2015, on average, there was a road accident every 47 minutes and
an accident-related death every 11 hours.”
Source: Cuba Needs a Safe Nationwide Highway – Havana Times.org –