HACIENDA PINILLA, Guanacaste – The eight-day trek from Puebla, Mexico, to Panama over Central America’s winding highways may be getting shorter under a new plan conceived by the Costa Rican government.
During the Tuxtla Summit held here this week, the region’s heads of state confirmed their commitment to improving road infrastructure and border crossings along the 3,244-kilometer (2,000 mile) corridor.
Over a distance that takes more than 190 hours to drive in Central America – which would likely require only 35 hours in the United States – road conditions force traffic to drive an average of 17 kilometers per hour, according to a statement from the Costa Rican Ministry of Transportation and Public Works.
“Without the infrastructure to connect the areas, despite free-trade agreements, each country will be severely impacted. Businesses without the needed infrastructure will not achieve growth in equity nor will they generate social development,” said Transportation and Public Works Minister Karla González.
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) said most of the investment is needed in Costa Rica, where $345 million in road repairs have been identified.
To improve roads, road safety and border crossings, the bank identified $125 million of needed investment in Mexico, $66 million in Guatemala, $222 million in El Salvador, $89 million in Honduras, $177 million in Nicaragua and $46 million in Panama. All told, González pressed for a total of $1.072 billion.
Among the objectives discussed is a reduction in time spent at border crossings, mirroring a pilot project between Honduras and El Salvador that reduced the process from 61 minutes to only eight.
“The natural ally of free trade is infrastructure,” said González in a statement. “The investment we make will reduce travel times, taking an average of 54 hours to travel from Mexico to Panama, and generate savings in operating costs and transportation, reduce emissions and stimulate regional trade.”
Closer to home, the plan would involve finishing the Caldera and the Costanera Sur highways, two projects that are already underway on Costa Rica’s Pacific side.