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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor: Alternatives exist to raising tolls on roads

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi

By John McPhaul

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Thursday that despite the fact that the Financial Oversight and Management Board approved an increase in tolls in the Puerto Rico Highways and Transportation Authority (HTA) Fiscal Plan, alternatives exist to avoid such an increase.

“Tomorrow I understand that the Board is convening to certify the Fiscal Plan and that is when we will have the details,” the governor said in response to questions from the press. “Based on the information that I have, what we are going to do is to do everything possible to reduce or mitigate these toll increases. There are different ways to do it.”

“Perhaps the period in which the necessary funds must be raised can be stretched or lengthened, but we are going to do everything possible so that the increases are not so drastic, especially in these years,” he added.

Pierluisi said that in Friday’s meeting with the oversight board he will make his statement on the subject.

“This is a process that continues. The fiscal plan is a living document; it can undergo changes, it can be amended,” the governor said. “For example, if additional federal funds arrive at the Highway Authority that can be used for operational matters of the Authority that were being addressed with state funds, that could change the landscape. I give that as an example. Also, if we improve negotiations with creditors, this can have a positive impact [on an increase] in tolls. Finally, the Authority has ways in which it can optimize its collections; for example, with two-way toll stations, among others, or adding tolls on roads that do not exist, they may be new roads. Tomorrow we will make the statements that [the matter] does not end there; we will find a way to reduce or mitigate those increases.”

The members of the oversight board on Tuesday certified the updated fiscal plan for the HTA, which establishes the need to increase toll rates by 8.3 percent per year to keep the island’s toll highways in good condition.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the New Progressive Party delegation in the island House of Representatives, Carlos “Johnny” Méndez Nuñez, rejected the increase on Thursday.

“The decisions of the Board have to be made taking into consideration the reality of current Puerto Rico, not based on numbers in an Excel table,” Méndez Nuñez said in a written statement. “The increase, so marked of 8.3 percent for three consecutive years, added to the high costs of gasoline, which will only rise even more with the war [in Ukraine] caused by the Russian Federation, will complicate the economic situation of our people, already overwhelmed by the historic rate of inflation that we are experiencing.”

“I call on the [oversight board] to review the recently certified Fiscal Plan of the Highway and Transportation Authority, which includes marked increases at toll stations on Puerto Rico’s highways,” the former House speaker added. “The cost of traveling on highways will become almost prohibitive, as is the case with PR-66, which runs from Carolina to Río Grande. Same with other highways. These are the routes that our people travel the most to go to their workplaces, their children’s schools and their homes. These increases are very onerous and more so coming from the COVID-19 virus pandemic, as well as the other current economic factors.”

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