The great problem of land transport

There are ambitious plans to build a fourth bridge over the Panama Canal, a monorail to the west and an eight-lane Pan American Highway. But will this solve the traffic problem?

A great percentage of the public living in Panama West travel to work in the Capital City. The reason for this phenomenon is simple. The price of housing is so high in the metropolitan area, fueled by speculators and a lack of land, that people have been forced to find other outlying locations, such as Arraijan, La Chorrera and even Capira. This migration has created a serious mobilization problem with roads jam packed with commuters.

Around 90,000 people use the Arraijan-La Chorrera highway every day.

Around 90,000 people use the Arraijan-La Chorrera highway every day.

More than 90,000 people travel daily to Panama City, using two points of access: the Bridge of the Americas, which has been in operation since 1962 and the Centenary Bridge which was completed in August 2004. The third bridge currently under construction is in Colón and, therefore, it will not help Panama West commuters. The fourth bridge over the Canal will be an outlet for this excess in traffic, as well as Line 3 of the Panama Metro.

These two projects represent the two most important road infrastructure works in the history of Panama, after the expansion of the Panama Canal, inaugurated on 26 June this year, and these new infrastructure projects will cut travelling time significantly. On a bad day the trip from the Bridge of the Americas to Arraijan, with a distance of only 14 kilometers, can take over an hour, sometimes more.

The main reason for this bottleneck is that the Bridge of the Americas and the Pan American Highway to Arraijan only have two lanes going in each direction, which is not enough to cope with the amount of vehicles using this route.

The fourth bridge over the Canal, which should be ready in 2021, is a project of 6.5 kilometers of motorway that will give continuity to the Northern Corridor Expressway and will join the widening to eight lanes of the Pan-American Highway (Bridge of the Americas-Arraijan) for a cost that exceeds $1,000 million in investment. It will be a toll road.

This project will be combined – road and monorail (Line 3 of the Panama Metro); there will be two separate three-lane carriageways each way and a double track for the monorail and it will comply with minimum requirements, such as: clearance over the canal for navigation of 75 meters; main span of between 480 to 540 meters; a 4% slope, so it will not affect the operation of the waterway, and there will be a speed limit of 100 kph in its design.

Line 3 of the Panama Metro will consist of a monorail with an extension of 26.7 kilometers with 14 stations and it will allow the movement of 1,000 people in each train of six cars and up to 20,000 people per hour.

La Chorrera residents are requesting that the light train that will only go as far as “La Ciudad del Futuro” in Arraijan, be extended to Costa Verde, a move that would benefit the new neighborhoods that are being constructed around that area.

The government also has ambitious plans for the PanAmerican Highway. It is planned to widen 54 kilometers of this road from La Chorrera to San Carlos. Currently the road has two lanes in each direction. The plan is to add additional lanes, so it will become a six lane highway.

The aim of this project, divided in two phases, is to connect the growing province of Panama West with the rest of the country. It is important to note that the PanAmerican Highway is the only road that connects Panama City with the rest of the country.

For this project to work, the highway should be expanded all the way to the border with Costa Rica to allow a more speedy transit time for freight trucks traveling to and from Central America.

These are great solutions, but they do not address the real problem: the lack of reliable public transport. Currently the residents of Panama West must rely on Coaster buses traveling to and from the interior and the green, yellow and orange “devils” (old U.S. school buses).

They take aboard too many passengers, with a lot of people forced to stand, apart from being dirty, with very loud music and simply dangerous on the roads. So at the end, those who can afford to, buy a car creating more traffic jams.

Why not extend the Metro Bus system to Panama West, which would then feed Metro Line 3, as is done in many cities in the United States, Europe, Mexico and Colombia?

Better still; why not build a railway to Panama-Pacifico or La Chorrera, which will not only serve the ports at the Pacific entrance of the Canal, but also connect Panama City with the interior, reducing the number of trucks on the roads.

Panama needs to solve its land transport problem before cars choke not only the capital and Panama West, but the whole country.

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