U.S Transportation Secretary Raymond LaHood took a tour of some of Puerto Rico’s major infrastructure projects Tuesday, when Gov. Luis Fortuño outlined the $23 million in federal funds the island is spending on safety and airport development projects.
The lion’s share of the $23 million — $22.5 million — are earmarked to improve the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport’s runways, while $900,000 will be assigned to fund a newly created consortium between Puerto Rico and Rhode Island to attract new direct flights between LMM and the Culebra airport, Fortuño explained.
Cape Air is the Rhode Island-based carrier that would likely benefit from such talks.
Calling LaHood an “ally” in the local government’s efforts to develop cutting-edge infrastructure for Puerto Rico, Fortuño said: “we’ve taken forward-looking steps to guarantee a close relationship with our federal allies and to use the funds we’ve received responsibly and efficiently.”
During a walk-through of the LMM airport, Fortuño, LaHood and Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi inspected Terminal A’s new baggage handling system installed for its new tenant, JetBlue. A dozen employees run the system that cuts back on the time passengers need to wait for their luggage upon arrival.
“Every minute that a tourist is not waiting for their luggage at the airport is an extra minute that the tourist is enjoying exquisite Puerto Rican cuisine in one of our restaurants or an extra minute that this tourist is shopping in Puerto Rico,” Fortuño said.
The government officials also inspected the improvements already completed to LMM’s runway 8-26 — the longest of the airport’s two landing strips — at a cost of $19 million split between federal funds (75 percent) and local money (25 percent.)
As News is my Business reported in January, the improvements will allow larger aircraft to land in Puerto Rico and will give the airport the ability to welcome all types of planes and expand the airport’s operations, which could lead to increased tourism and business for the island.
The to-do list also includes improvements to the “Sierra” runway, which runs parallel to runway 8-26, at a cost of $10.4 million.
Road trip to Guaynabo, Condado
During his visit, LaHood also checked out the improvements planned for the Caparra Interchange System, the junction where at least four major roads — Route 2, Route 20, PR-165 and PR-23 — meet near the San Patricio Plaza mall in Guaynabo.
All tolled, the government is investing $19 million to help alleviate the traffic snarls by adding an extra lane in both directions, a rotunda, and six new off-ramps. The projects are expected to break ground in October and be completed in 2014.
As this media outlet also reported, Puerto Rico received $10 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation, during the third round of the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program announced last year.
The tour with LaHood also included a visit to the recently inaugurated Dos Hermanos Bridge in the Condado area, for which the government spent nine years and $45 million to rebuild.