• Culebra and Vieques are connected to the main island by a Ferry that often does not have the capacity for all passengers.
  • Many of the proposals for the main island of Puerto Rico would require much local input to adapt for Culebra and Vieques.
  • Access to healthcare in Culebra and Vieques relies heavily on transportation to Puerto Rico, and we recommend improved health care in these islands to reduce the strain on the ferry.
  • The ferry system has recently transitioned into a public-private partnership and we await further developments.

It is important to consider both the existing and post-emergency transportation systems of the islands of Culebra and Vieques. These two smaller islands each have populations under 10,000 citizens, with 1,818 and 9,301 people, respectively.

Both islands have historically been home to a United States naval base. A base used to be housed at Culebra, but after protests in 1971, all operations were moved to Vieques, where another base had been running since World War II. In the first few years of the 21st century, there were more protests at Vieques against US Navy practices. Much of the naval base had actually been kept from industrial development for 60 years, and, as a result, was surprisingly pristine, but unexploded ordinance from numerous US Navy tests polluted parts of Vieques to the point where it became a Superfund site. [1] While it had been significantly cleaned before Hurricane Maria, floodwaters still managed to spread pollution to an appreciable quantity around parts of the small island, hindering transportation. [2]

Both islands are accessible via a round trip ferry costing $4.50, though this often has long lines and sometimes cannot accept all passengers. [3] The islands can also be visited via airplane from four different airports throughout the main island of Puerto Rico. Once on the two islands, there are only four possible methods of transportation other than private vehicles: rental cars, rental scooters/bikes, taxis, or public vans. [4] During and after a natural disaster, these transportation methods remain the same.

Figure 1: Vieques.
Figure 2: Culebra – Playa de Flamenco.

Adaptation of Proposals at Local Level

The proposal we have formed is applicable to different regions in different ways. The ideas we have articulated regarding transportation, especially ideas having to do with developing new roads, would need significant revision to effectively help Culebra and Vieques. Input at the local level is necessary at every stage of implementation of any of these ideas because ultimately, projects should represent the people they affect.

We support those working to understand the diversity of experiences people have, how proposals need to be adapted to effectively help people living in Culebra and Vieques, and how all people affected by major storms can be treated equitably in the processes of resilience and recovery.

Many of the ideas that follow are preliminary, and in the process of exploring them, it became clear that a deeper understanding of the experiences of people in Culebra and Vieques was necessary for proposing detailed ideas.

Prioritizing Health and Safety

With regard to transportation for Culebra and Vieques, we are mostly concerned with health and safety. This is a matter of having access to healthcare on Culebra and Vieques and efficient transportation to healthcare on the main island. Currently, dialysis patients on Vieques must still travel to the main island to receive treatment. In a survey with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, one clinic director reported losing two dialysis patients in this process. Vieques also lacks licensing for a vaccine program, causing patients to travel by plane or ferry to the main island for immunizations. At the moment there are roughly 200 homebound patients who live on Vieques, so the same clinic director proposed opening a home health program to serve their needs (more information here). We agree that projects like this one should be prioritized.

Ferry System

The ferry system transporting tourists and commuters from the main island to Culebra and Vieques has experienced challenges since before Hurricane Maria, even to the point where citizens are waiting for several hours at the terminal and are advised to travel by air instead of by ferry. [6] In recent years, the Puerto Rican government has started the process of entering a public-private partnership for ferry services. [7] Since this attempt to improve the system is so new, we do not have enough information to know whether it is improving the experience of residents and tourists. Thus, our proposal does not involve significant long term ideas for the ferry system at this time.