Caguas mayor again demands action from central gov’t on road repair
Decries ‘disastrous condition’ of state highways in the town
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
Caguas Mayor William Miranda Torres demanded once again on Sunday that the central government meet its responsibility to allocate the funds necessary to repair the state highways in the municipality “that are in disastrous condition.”
During a press conference at Puerto Rico Mayors Association headquarters in Puerta de Tierra, Miranda Torres called on the administration of Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to “desist once and from all the discrimination and abandonment that the municipality of Caguas has faced for more than four years” as he claimed to have used every outlet available through the Transportation and Public Works Department (DTOP by its Spanish acronym) to seek funding for the much needed repairs.
“Our citizens have reached the point that some roadways represent a real danger for them to travel on,” said the mayor along with leaders from the group Brea Pa’ Mi Pueblo (Asphalt for My Town).
The mayor recounted the steps both he and his staff have taken to have the DTOP work on the affected roads in the municipality, including a portfolio that contained letters and online messages his staff had sent to then-DTOP Secretary Carlos Contreras Aponte and then-Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced “in search of a solution that has not been forthcoming.”
Miranda Torres said that at a meeting with Vázquez in September 2019 at the Highways and Transportation Authority, he was told that “there was a process to prepare an auction to fix roads PR-784, PR-795 and PR-788, and that they had PR-183 under design, in order to proceed with the auction of the latter.”
“However, we have no information on this,” he added.
The Caguas mayor said that given the lack of action by the central government, the municipal administration has paved and fixed municipal and state roads since fiscal year 2012-2013 with an investment of $15.15 million. He noted that, of that sum, more than $11.23 million came from municipal funds, not from any state allocation.
“I understand and share the frustration of citizens. The condition of the state roads is terrible. My municipal administration has worked hard to do our part,” Miranda Torres said. “However, the DTOP has not been responsive as an agency to the magnitude of the problem we have with the deteriorating state of the country’s roads. This is not about excuses or passing the buck. What is happening is that there is an agency that exists to maintain the roads and it is not fulfilling that function.”
The mayor also said that the work that has been carried out to date has impacted Caguas’ 11 neighborhoods, thus including urbanizations, rural areas and avenues.
Among the road projects, Miranda Torres said repairs have been carried out on highways PR-784 and PR-785 in Cañaboncito, with an investment of $746,665, and PR-795 in Río Cañas with an investment of $331,567.
Meanwhile, the mayor said, repairs on Gautier Benítez Avenue (PR-1) will begin this month with an investment of $894,000.
“Even with this million-dollar municipal investment, it is estimated that in Caguas the main roads in the municipality’s jurisdiction in need of asphalt amount to $7 million and $15 million on state highways, which we have been demanding for years,” he said.
Miranda Torres pointed out that the municipal administration has invested close to or more than $1 million in all those fiscal years mentioned, with the exception of 2017-2018, which was the year of Hurricane Maria.
Mayors Association Chairman Luis Javier Hernández, meanwhile, stood with Miranda Torres, pointing out “the discrimination that municipalities that belong to the association have faced.”
“It is incredible that more than three years after the impact of Hurricane Maria there are still thousands of unresolved projects on secondary and tertiary state highways,” the Villalba mayor said. “In a meeting held with the designated DTOP secretary, we urgently requested a work plan to address this road safety crisis that we are experiencing in the country. That is why today, together with our friend Miranda Torres, we reiterate our request for attention to our municipalities.”
DTOP secretary-designate responds to Caguas mayor
Later in the day, DTOP secretary-designate Eileen Vélez Vega said via written statements to have scheduled a meeting with Miranda Torres on Tuesday to “discuss their concerns and see how we can work together to improve the conditions of the state highways in the municipality.”
The secretary-designate also said that the agency has always conducted “a proactive meeting agenda with the mayors and to be clear that her doors will always be open to listening to them” since the administration’s arrival.
“Currently, we are working on these fund allocations through agreements with the municipalities, where a mechanism has been developed that will provide this money fairly and equitably, which consists of a formula based on the number of kilometers of roads,” said Vélez Vega. “Our administration will ensure that each municipality is provided with the funds to address the main needs of the state’s public roads.”