The 2019 Report Card for Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure, prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers, includes grades for eight categories with an overall GPA of D-. The grades are: bridges (D+), dams (D+), waste water (D+), drinking water (D), ports (D), solid waste (D-), roads (D-) and energy (F). In conclusion, according the Report Card, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure is weak and at risk.
Although apparently some were surprised, the content of the Report Card is no secret. Puerto Rico's infrastructure is weak, lacking proper maintenance and yes, was devastated by the blow of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
However, the ASCE also states the good news that there are solutions to these challenges and that’s precisely what this short piece looks to discuss as D’ Opportunity to build a better Puerto Rico that supports growth and competitiveness.
I believe that we have the chance to do what's been needed for decades, if we appropriately manage the recovery funds destined to Puerto Rico and facilitate private investment. Investors don’t need political favors, they need policies that are favorable for business, stability and the political will to do what needs to be done.
Some solutions, such as those for solid waste, drinking water, ports, and energy, are already at an advanced stage on their road to completion. Government simply should remove any roadblocks that might arise on the way. Let’s look at some examples:
Solid waste (D-): Puerto Rico has 29 solid waste facilities currently in operation. Of these, only 11 are compliant with federal standards. This means that 18 landfills currently pose risks to the environment and public health. Closing down non-compliant landfills is one of D’ opportunities that we should seize. Following through with the adequate closure of non-compliant landfills, utilizing private capacity and available federal funds is D’ Opportunity to address the impact of landfills on natural resources (including soil, air, and water quality) and therefore public health.
Ports (D): Puerto Rico’s ports infrastructure is fragile. ASCE estimates the cost to repair ports throughout the island at close to $750 million. Before resigning as executive director of the Puerto Rico Ports Authority, I left in place certain initiatives that would allow hundreds of millions in private investment, such as a P3 concession for San Juan Bay’s Cruise Terminals, and an RFP for a MegaYacht Marina, which in combination with publicly funded initiatives would reach that amount. Privatization and proper management of recovery funds is D’ Opportunity to have better and stronger ports.
Drinking Water (D): The ASCE notes that PRASA has improved its non-revenue water loss rate and, while water quality continues to improve as new processes are implemented, hurricanes aggravated an already difficult fiscal and operational situation for our water management. Closing the P3 concession in PRASA and the continuation of adequate management of recovery funds, is D’ Opportunity to have a more resilient water system for our people.
The wheel has been invented and this is not managing the stock market. Puerto Rico can build better infrastructure and support economic growth. Adequate management, policies that favor business, clear priorities, and the political will to do what must be done, are some of the ingredients needed to turn our failing grades into great opportunities. Puerto Rico has the opportunity to have world class ports, closing non-compliant landfills, adequate roads, energy grid, water management and bridges.