The Current State of the Road System

Even before Hurricane Maria, the road system was badly damaged. During the major recession in the late 2000s, roads were repaired using very low quality asphalt, and thus potholes and other issues reappeared very quickly.[1] The recession continued to affect Puerto Ricans after the US mainland began to recover, so the government continued to repair these reappearing potholes with low quality materials—if they even were repaired—leading to a continuing cycle of damaged roads and sub-par repairs. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, efforts to maintain pavement and resurface municipal roads would be drastically improved by promoting quality control standards and providing the necessary project supervision and management to carry out such large projects. [2]

Hurricane Maria only worsened Puerto Rico’s road conditions by widening existing potholes and creating new ones. Furthermore, Hurricane Maria washed out numerous roads and bridges, making it difficult to access rural areas and distribute necessary supplies (e.g. food and medicine). The road problems turned the already congested streets of urban communities into “obstacles for drivers”. According to one resident, there are “more craters…than the moon.”[1] A Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 1,500 Puerto Rican residents found that 93% of residents state that more resources are needed in repairing roads and highways. According to the Washington Post, more than 1,500 cases of damaged roads and bridges were documented in Maria’s aftermath, alongside problems with most traffic signals and signs. Today, preliminary estimates put repair costs at $240M. [3]

Two years after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island, road quality remains abysmal. The extensive problem of potholes and impassable roads worsens the already difficult financial strain that families experience by increasing vehicle maintenance costs and limiting access to food, gas, and medical care in rural areas.

Figure 1 (left). Damage wreaked by Hurricane Maria in Toa Alta, west of San Juan[4]

Figure 2 (right). Erosion following Hurricane Maria in Utuado, located along the Río Grande de Loíza, the largest river in Puerto Rico[5]

This challenge is particularly important in Puerto Rico as Puerto Ricans have an incredibly high level of car ownership. Puerto Ricans hold the position of the fifth-highest number of vehicles per capita across the entire world. [6] The design of the island’s road system combined with the extensive urban sprawl and lack of useful public transportation has left commuters without any options for transportation beyond personal cars.

While Puerto Rico does have a rail system, it is small, undersubscribed, and only services San Juan. Expansion of this rail system, while possible, would pose major challenges in that it is very expensive to expand a rail system in an already developed city. Access via bus is also limited: the Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses, the metropolitan bus authority servicing the island, only serves urban centers and tourist destinations like San Juan, Carolina, Cataño, Guaynabo, Trujilo Alto and Bayamón.[7] Therefore, road restoration efforts should be placed upon restoring existing damaged roads and making the island safer and more accessible for car drivers, so as to meet the current demand of Puerto Rican citizens.

Mission Statement

The devastation of Hurricane Maria multiplied gas shortages, resulted in debris that covered roads, and flooded the island. Puerto Rico’s roads were already badly damaged from poor maintenance and years of storm damage. There was no significant effective public transportation system across the entire island of Puerto Rico, and as a result, the overwhelming majority of residents relied on their own automobiles for transportation. After Maria, there were over 1,500 damaged roads, which severely limited the transportation of materials and emergency supplies to rural residents.[8] Furthermore, there were complications with communication. After the storm, only 392 out of 5,073 miles of road were open.[9] To ensure more access to adequate transportation across the island immediately after a disaster, the road system must be redesigned and restructured to be more resilient against future disasters. Furthermore, a more effective and faster debris cleanup system should be implemented. In this section, we introduce our proposals to address this problem. 


Many areas within the continental United States, particularly within the Midwest and northern regions, have aimed to improve their own roads in recent years. In fact, many politicians claim that the continental United States’ highway system as a whole needs to be revamped. In Michigan, Governor Whitmer ran on the slogan “Fix the damn roads.” It is from areas such as these where we have drawn ideas for funding a revamping of the Puerto Rican road system. In some states, the idea of a gas tax has been adopted or discussed, wherein a tax is added to gas, such that those who use the roads are also paying for their improvement. This may become challenging as cars continue to be improved and rely less and less on gas, though due to an unreliable power grid, gas cars are still the best option for Puerto Ricans. Many states also use Adopt-a-Highway systems, where a company or individual may choose to pay for a highway’s renovation and maintenance for either publicity or a tax break. Having more tolls for major roads, though a nuisance to some drivers, may also allow Puerto Rico to improve essential and frequently used stretches of road. We acknowledge that the maintenance of a good road system relies heavily on the presence of a strong economy and high use of the road system. However, we believe an improved transportation network will make the island a more attractive places for investors as well as companies of all sizes, from start-ups to large corporations; this would hopefully fuel an improved economy and make maintenance of a renovated road system feasible. 

Project Proposal Budget

Proposal ProjectsEstimated Cost (USD)
Debris clearing$112M
Repair damaged roads$652M*
Building new roads$518M
Total:$1.11B to $1.45B

Figure 3: The cost of implementing transportation proposal goals. 

*This is the cost of the road repair campaign launched in Puerto Rico in 2018. We factored this number into the total budget of our proposal to reach an overall understanding of costs related to transportation.

We created these cost estimates using the data we researched in the process of our research. We found that there were roughly 7M cubic yards of debris and that it costs about $16 dollars per cubic yard to remove this debris. The range of prices for building the 173 miles between fifteen municipalities in mountainous regions is based on a price of $3M per mile of road in rural areas. This price assumes that mountainous roads will be more expensive than other rural roads.