Caracas, Venezuela, July 19, 2006—Venezuela’s President Chavez inaugurated a fourth subway line for Caracas yesterday, a project that cost $860 million and took nearly seven years to complete. During the inauguration, Chavez defended its completion against critics who charge that it is no coincidence the project finishes on an election year.
The new subway line, which was planned during the Rafael Caldera presidency (1994-1999), but not initiated until Chavez’s first year in office, is supposed to transport 360,000 passengers per day. Since a good part of the new 5.8 kilometer line runs parallel to Caracas’ main number one line, it is expected to contribute towards de-congesting this over-crowded part of the subway system, by about 150,000 passengers per day.
The project is part of a large infrastructure investment plan that the government launched, to improve public transportation throughout the country. These include the construction of five new freeways, four subway systems in major cities (including the line just completed one in Caracas), a railroad system of 4,000 kilometers (to be completed in 20 years), and a second bridge of 3 kilometers over the Orinoco River.
The recession in late 2001, the April 2002 coup attempt, and the December 2002 oil industry shutdown all contributed to delays in the subway project because of a lack of financial resources. It was not until the renewed oil boom of 2004 that the government was able to concentrate on completing this long-planned project.
During the inauguration, Chavez announced that the new number 4 line will be further extended towards the eastern half of Caracas, with construction to begin soon.
Chavez rejected the suggestion that the opening of the subway was timed to coincide with this year’s presidential election. "It is not my fault that we are finishing exactly as was planned in 2006. What do they want? That we close it and don’t inaugurate it until next year?" said Chavez. Declaring his complete confidence that he will win reelection, he added, "In any case, what will happen in December is already written, whether we inaugurate public works or not."
Today, the first day of the line’s operation, though, produced unexpected surprises for passengers, because signs were missing and it was thus unclear which way one had to go to make transfers. Also, most escalators are not operational yet, so that elderly people had a hard time climbing the in some cases very long flights of stairs.