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Volume 15, Number 19
January 6, 2010

economy

Also in this section:
Route for Panama City's Metro rail system unveiled
The coastal right of possession land titling law they finally passed
Record hike in minimum wage, but unions say workers still lose ground against inflation
Two ex-ministers in jail for school repair contracting scandal
The Panamanian bond sale that wasn't
First electric rationing in expected drought
Where's Rex Freeman?


Martinelli administration unveils Metro route


For a larger-sized version of this map, click here

On January 6 President Martinelli's point man for the development of the "Metro" mass transit system, Roberto Roy, announced to a carefully selected audience the route for the project. The 14-kilometer line, half of which will be underground and most of the rest of which will be elevated, will begin at the National Transportation Terminal in Albrook and end in the Los Andes neighborhood on the north side of San Miguelito near the Corredor Norte.

The route will not serve either Tocumen or Albrook airports, although its southern terminus at the bus terminal will be close to Albrook. It's essentially a line designed to move working people between the metro area's "old" northern outskirts and the city center and does not serve many of the major parks, cultural institutions or sports stadiums. It would be reasonable to expect, however, that Metro stations would be magnets that attract the construction of new sporting, cultural and entertainment facilities, notwithstanding whatever specific plans the current administration may or may not have on this subject.

The Metro won't go to the Panama City - San Miguelito area's currently growing urban sprawl areas to the east and northeast, such as Costa del Este, Tocumen or Pacora. However, most likely the stop at the northern end of the route will be a major terminal for buses serving the eastern parts of the metro area and Panama province. The system will use six-car electric trains and be designed to move up to 40,000 people per hour. It would imply a major rearrangement of bus routes, but if experiences in others places is any guide it would probably not have a great effect on the metro area's traffic congestion other than giving a lot of people a way around it.

The line and its 16 stations are expected to be built, at a cost of around $1 billion, within the next three years and be up and running by the time that Ricardo Martinelli's presidential term ends. Although various skeptics have questioned this timetable, by experiences in other places it appears to be realistic. There are always unexpected finds in these sorts of projects, but it is believed that the government's POYRY-Cal&Mayor-Geoconsult consultants have looked at the major geological features along the way --- at least, several months ago they said they would do this.

It will be a measure of Mr. Martinelli's cultural values if, as is likely, archaeological sites are uncovered along the route. Past administrations, most notoriously that of Ernesto Pérez Balladares, have had a policy of quick destruction of such sites and economic retaliation against archaeologists and government cultural officials who wanted to study them. However, in some countries such finds have been incorporated into transportation systems, for example by modifying station plans to display the uncovered heritage.

The experience of most cities that have built such systems is that the areas around the stations become development poles. No doubt there is already a rush to buy property in those areas, but the interesting thing to see is whether anyone has already been buying on inside information. No allegations or indications of that sort of thing have arisen at this time.

There was little public participation or transparency in the selection of the route, which in the end turned out to be fairly similar to one advocated but not acted upon in the Moscoso administration. In these sorts of decisions it is usually argued that prior public knowledge prompts speculators to buy property along the route and raise its price. If judges can be bribed there may be a point to that argument, but on paper at least Panama has sufficient powers of eminent domain to suppress those sorts of games. The fine details of the route, their implications and the objections that they are sure to elicit from some remain to be seen, but there does seem to be an overall rational basis for the path that was chosen.

Also in this section:
Route for Panama City's Metro rail system unveiled
The coastal right of possession land titling law they finally passed
Record hike in minimum wage, but unions say workers still lose ground against inflation
Two ex-ministers in jail for school repair contracting scandal
The Panamanian bond sale that wasn't
First electric rationing in expected drought
Where's Rex Freeman?


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