Plans to build a commuter train project connecting Caguas to San Juan, called Novotrén, have been derailed after years of development and interest from the private sector, Caguas Mayor William Miranda-Torres confirmed.
The proposed $400 million project was expected to move 14,000 passengers daily, drawing users from Caguas and adjoining municipalities, including Humacao, Naguabo, Juncos, San Lorenzo, Cayey and Cidra. Once operational, it was to alleviate the significant traffic jams that form on the highway during peak hours.
“The proposal for the so-called Caguas train arose from the need to connect the Eastern Midwest region with the metropolitan area,” he said. “Massive citizen mobility is one of Puerto Rico’s pressing needs.”
“A mass and effective transit system has a direct impact on the population and on projections of global competitiveness that as a society we aspire,” he said.
The Novotrén project was among the previous administration’s most prominent public-private partnership initiatives. In May 2013, this media outlet reported that more than half a dozen firms were waiting in the wings to participate in the bidding process for the light-rail system.
At least nine consortia had expressed an interest in developing the commuter service, including firms from Germany, India, Italy, South Korea, Spain and the U.S. mainland.
The government, meanwhile had explored the possibility of applying for federal funds to finance the project, including meeting a series of conditions within the analysis of the project, including an environmental assessment.
The Department of Transportation and Public Works, the Highways and Transportation Authority and the Municipality of Caguas appeared as the proponents of this project before federal agencies.
“The Public-Private Partnerships Authority and the Government Development Bank decided not to complete the environmental assessment, even though the process was advanced and they had held several meetings to consult the community,” Miranda-Torres said. “The Municipality of Caguas was working with the Legislature to identify the source of repayment to be able to obtain the federal loan.”
The mayor further said exploring the availability of federal funds to float the project during Puerto Rico’s difficult economic times was the way to go.
“So, it would have been appropriate to finish the environmental assessment, which is valid for 10 years, and which would have allowed us to have access to federal funds, some that had already been identified,” Miranda-Torres noted.
“Otherwise, the public funds invested would be lost. Information collected would expire and then we would have to start from scratch to obtain federal funding for this project,” he said.
“In challenging times we must set clear priorities that generate an economic impact and improve the quality of life,” Miranda-Torres said. “We must focus on two or three priorities and put all our efforts into completing them. What happened? That is the result. None materialized.”