Cabo Death Trip

 Cabo Death Trip


As if the appearance of a car-size pothole a few months ago at San José del Cabo airport was not enough, an ill-conceived redesign of the Transpeninsular Highway between the Cabo del Sol overpass and downtown Cabo San Lucas has created a blatantly dangerous situation.

This recent change is another example of the dire state of infrastructure in Los Cabos, a rapidly growing region that boasts a profusion of exclusive, $1,000-a-night hotels, a smoking-hot 6% annual economic growth rate, and tourism growth in the double digits. At the same time, roadways suffer from inadequate design and far worse maintenance, including a main highway that has languished unchanged since the 1990s (except for the addition of too many traffic signals) despite a tenfold growth in population. 

Predictably, the frequency of accidents started increasing, and a number of Gringos I spoke with earlier this year had become terrified of driving on the highway. The mounting death toll resulted in part from people who run across the highway, dodging vehicles moving at anywhere from 90 to 110 kph (55-68 mph) – roughly the design speed of the highway – and sometimes not so successfully dodging them, resulting in tragedy.

The frequency and seriousness of the near-daily car accidents on the highway demonstrated that the time had come for local authorities to finally step up and improve the infrastructure, build overpasses or underpasses and repave the highway with smooth pavement seen elsewhere in Mexico. 

And for goodness sake, build some pedestrian overpasses. San Jose has at least four over the highway, with fencing underneath to discourage highway crossers. There should be at least as many between Plaza San Lucas and the Home Depot in Cabo San Lucas. 

It was rumored the president of the Republic, known by his initials AMLO, visited BCS recently. He’s been behind some spectacular infrastructure projects in other parts of Mexico. Could we hope that he’d notice the desperate state of the infrastructure in BCS and finally send some real resources to be dedicated toward improvements? Nope.

Instead, we got an ill-conceived project seemingly designed to encourage pedestrians to take grossly unreasonable risks by crossing the divided highway on foot. The first abomination arises when one heads down the long hill from the Cabo del Sol overpass, picking up speed, rounding the corner, and confronting … a speed bump! This causes motorists typically driving 90-110 kph (55-68 mph) to slam on their brakes in panic. Not a safe situation.

Then, not a kilometer further, after motorists have resumed speeds of at least 90 kph (55 mph) one sees …a crosswalk! This crosswalk is painted onto only half the highway, the part heading into San Lucas. Its purpose apparently is to lure unsuspecting pedestrians into 90-100 kph traffic, then strand them in the median area, since there is no crosswalk on the outbound side of the highway in front of the Cabo Bello entrance. Not a safe situation.

This pattern of randomly painted crosswalks on half the highway is repeated several times on the way into town. Apparently, those who designed this bizarre scheme, along with the large 60 kph (37 mph) signs sprinkled along the way, have managed to startle or confuse drivers sufficiently so that they now go about 80-100 kph (50-62 mph), or about 10 kph (6 mph) slower than before. The result? Pedestrians no longer run across the highway … they now walk across! Not a safe situation.

All this insanity can have only one purpose: to save a few pesos. 

Were there any sort of reasonable taxation of those $1,000-a-night hotels lining the corridor and likely bringing in many billions of pesos each year, there would be more than enough funding for what must be built in Cabo for the highway death toll to diminish: good overpasses with onramps and offramps like at Palmilla and Cabo del Sol; separate pedestrian walks on those overpasses (unlike what we see now); four or five pedestrian bridges between Fresko/Home Depot and Plaza San Lucas; and fencing or heavy, impenetrable landscaping along the median to prevent pedestrian crossings. 

The same should be done for the busy highway leading north from San Lucas toward La Paz, and to reduce lengthy, daily traffic backups, an interchange should be built where the Highway 19 bypass meets the Transpeninsular Highway at the entrance to downtown Cabo San Lucas.

What I asked in July in these pages I now, on paraphrase, ask again: We have world-class hotels and restaurants. Why can’t we have world-class infrastructure or at least reasonably designed and maintained roadways?

Author’s note: The headline of this article is a play on “Wisconsin Death Trip,” the title of a 1973 book that recounts the hardships many in the U.S. faced in the oligarch-dominated 1890s.

Photo caption: Perverse painting: Someone created a crosswalk on the Transpeninsular Highway near the Home Depot in Cabo San Lucas where traffic typically moves at 80-110 kph (50-68 mph), and several more on the way into town. The crosswalks have encouraged pedestrians to undertake dangerous highway crossings at a more leisurely pace.