SO much talk and the TU has become the newest joy ride in Puerto Rico-Part IHurray!! Cheers!! Where were the fireworks for the newly unveiled "Tren Urbano" that "opened" in two separate instances in the same week?? Now Puerto Rico has the luxury of having a mass transportation system that cost between 1.25 to 2.2 billion dollars (and still growing). No one knows for sure how much it cost or will cost but one thing is certain: it is the most expensive project (PDF) ever that will eventually fail. I am not being a pessimistic SOB, I am just being a sensible and unbiased individual analyzing things thoroughly. Let's star with cost. In 1996 the Puerto Rican government estimated that the Tren Urbano's cost would be 1.250 billion dollars and begin operations in July 2001 when it seeked a full funding grant agreement from the FTA or Federal Transportation Administration. By 1999, the cost estimate increased to 1.654 billion dollars and the date of beginning of operations was pushed back to May 2002. As of December 31, 2001 the estimated cost ballooned to 2.036 billion dollars. A cost that the FTA called on its last report "unrealistic" since "are likely to increase further". Under the original terms, funding would have been 43% from federal funding while the balance would have been covered from bond emissions from the PR government. Not bad huh? In reality, the FTA managed to fund 72% of the total projects of December 31, 2001. This situation lead to the FTA to withhold funds until the various irregularities were resolved. The total of withheld funds to date totals 165.7 million dollars. This in turn lead to more delays on construction and inauguration of the TU while the government scrambled to find funds where there were none. The spiraling cost of this seemingly simple project has lead to various people on the Administration to cut funding and scratch the project altogether but this was taken out of the table because there is that Big Dig Mess in Boston where the most expensive project in history is riddled with fraud and construction errors. Same thing that happened with TU. Then there is the notion within local officials that the TU would operate on the black on its proposed 50 years of viability (all this from DTOP secretary Fernando E. Fagundo). I would like to cite something in a newspaper from Charleston, South Carolina when one of its bus systems was shutdown :"The system, like practically all public transit systems, is nowhere near financial solvency." If Fernando Fagundo think the TU will have financial solvency somewhere in the future he should've looked no further than the Puerto Rico's own bus system, the AMA (Metropolitan Bus Authority). Earlier this year, the AMA's President went before the Puerto Rican legislature asking for more funding since the authority was operating on a deficit that unless the government took action, it was on the brink of shutdown similar to what happened in South Carolina. And to think that a heavy rail rapid transit line, which is what TU is, would last 50 years given the uniqueness of the design implemented on the TU is laughable.
The TU initial phase is 10.7 miles long. Most of it was built as an elevated rail system. Puerto Rico is located in the Caribbean. All of this equals to....disaster. Elevated is far cheaper than to bore and tunnel the whole damn system but at what cost? Didn't the "greatest minds" in Puerto Rico converged to design this? Wasn't any of the "greatest minds" an economist? Where was the cost-effective study along all of this when comparing maintenance cost for an underground system with the elevated one? All of this I hope was taken into account when designing the TU. And to think that Puerto Rico is right smack in the middle of hurricane alley and hurricane season is 6 months long. I remember Hugo and Georges plus concrete poles (supposedly built hurricane proof) on the ground. On the next installment of this series I will write about the cultural implications for the Puerto Rico population and what it means to the all-mighty king of the road: the car.