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Published on Nov 12, 2013 in Featured Articles, Latin America, Mexico, News

The Pan-American Highway

Most of us have heard of the Pan American Highway, and may have even driven on portions without even realizing it, myself included. In fact, we have an office in Monterrey, Mexico and, until recently, I didn’t realize that the Pan American Highway passed through this city. But the Pan American Highway is 30,000 miles in length and, except for a rainforest break of approximately 60 miles, extends from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina. According to Guinness World Records, it’s the longest “motorable road” in the world.

However, the original concept for Pan-American transit was not for a road at all. In 1889 the First Pan-American Conference envisioned a railroad line extending from one tip of the Americas to the other. Nothing came of this idea and in 1923, at the Fifth International Conference of American States, a single navigable highway was decided upon instead. In that year Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and the United States signed the Convention on the Pan-American Highway, agreeing to begin construction. In 1950 Mexico was the first country to complete its portion of the highway.

The Pan American Highway travels through 18 countries, with spurs leading into an additional three countries: Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay. However, the Pan American Highway is not a singular route. Instead, it correlates with a national system of highways rather than consisting of one specified route. For example, the United States Federal Highway Administration has designated the entire US Interstate Highway System as being part of the Pan American Highway system. In contrast, Canada has never officially defined any specific route as being part of the Pan-American Highway. Therefore, Canadian routes that reach the country’s border with the US, and are natural extensions of several key American highways, are unofficially considered part of the Pan American Highway.

There are four entry points for the Pan American Highway into Mexico. Most commonly, however, the primary entry point for the Pan American Highway is considered to be the border crossing between Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. From Mexico the Pan American Highway crosses into Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama where it stops at a 57 mile stretch of rugged mountainous rainforest known as the Darien Gap. This makes it impossible to cross between Central America and South America by motor vehicle. The only way around this gap appears to be a ferry ride from Panama to Colombia.

Once in Colombia the Pan American Highway continues south until it’s terminus in Ushuaia, Argentina or on a South American spur link to another country.

Still, travelers encounter problems when driving through the various countries which the Pan American Highway traverses, particularly in Latin and South America. Border crossings are sometimes closed at night and daytime traffic, waiting to cross international borders, can create lengthy delays.

Alan Refkin

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