As I drove through Kennedy Avenue on my way to Guaynabo, a city in the northeast of Puerto Rico, I was lucky not to be confronted with the same traffic jam that I usually face right before I reach the intersection with “la Carretera Número Dos” (PR-2). There are fewer cars on the road because today is the eve of “el Día de los Tres Reyes Magos,” (Three Kings Day), which is the holiday celebrated here in Puerto Rico and throughout Latin America on the Day of the Epiphany.
On most Three Kings days, I would wake up early to discover the presents the “Reyes” had left under the Christmas tree in the home I grew up in, which is right around the corner from that busy intersection. Every time I come back to Puerto Rico the traffic in this area can literally alter my plans to visit family and friends --- especially if I need to go from San Juan to Guaynabo. These two cities are just a few minutes apart, but the drive time can take an eternity because of the sea of cars that constantly clog the highway. This is a situation I accepted for years and never thought would change. Little did I know, however, that when I joined the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2009 I would be working at the federal agency that is tackling this problem and making real change. Because of a project DOT is helping to fund, there will be critical improvements made to the Caparra Interchange which will open new opportunities for commuters, truckers, bicyclists and business owners.
The Caparra Interchange is strategically located at a point that connects the shipping docks in the Port of San Juan with Guaynabo and Bayamón, as well as the highway that goes to Arecibo and the northwestern part of the Island. As a result of a $10 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant DOT recently awarded to a consortium led by the Municipality of Guaynabo, the interchange will be transformed into a roundabout with 2 new lanes, 6 new ramps and additional facilities for pedestrians. The award announced by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood last month seeks to reduce congestion on one of the main access roads where 81,000 vehicles and 1.7 million commuters travel daily. Easing the congestion along the Caparra Interchange will also save money for businesses that transport their goods and deliveries along this road in order to reach other parts of the Island. The temporary and permanent jobs created as a result of this project will significantly boost the economic engine of the San Juan metropolitan area and beyond.
DOT is also active in a number of other efforts with its partners in Puerto Rico. Just last month my colleague Víctor Méndez, the Federal Highway Administrator, came to San Juan to inaugurate the Dos Hermanos Bridge, which connects the sectors of Condado, Miramar, and the Old San Juan historic district and carries 10,000 vehicles each day. The reconstruction of the bridge was completed in part due to DOT funding.
Earlier today I left my mother’s house in San Juan and drove through the Dos Hermanos Bridge in order to get to Guaynabo. Once the Caparra Interchange is completed, drivers will notice a significant improvement in their daily commutes that may not be as smooth as on Three Kings Day Eve, but will go a long way in easing the flow of cars, goods and services in the heart of the San Juan metropolitan area.
Federico A. de Jesús currently serves as Associate Director for Governmental Affairs in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation in Washington, D.C.