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La Carretera Central
(The Central Highway)

One of the Machado regime's true accomplishments, often overlooked by historians and politicians, is the building of the Carretera Central, which ran practically the entire length of the island, from Pinar del Rio in the west to Santiago de Cuba, a distance of over 700 miles.

According to an article by Edwin J. Foscue in the October 1933 issue of Economic Geography (Vol. 9, Nol. 4) the highway became "a model of scientific construction, scenic beauty and economic usefulness."

Soon after becoming president in 1924, Machado commissioned the Secretary of Public Works to create a plan for building highways through the island. On July 15 1925, the plan was presented to and approved by the Cuban Congress. The final contract went to the Associated Cuban Contractors, Inc. (for about 30% of the project) and to the Warren Brothers Company of Boston (for the rest). The formal contract was signed in Havana on February 19 1927, and actual construction began that year around the first of May. The price for the 705.6 miles of highway was $75,870,000, or more than $107,000 per mile.

The highway, 20.66 feet wide throughout its full length, was designed to extend along the backbone, or drainage divides, of the island. It touched the coast in only three places, Havana, Matanzas and Santiago de Cuba.

The road was paved with Warrenite Bitulithic on a concrete base with thickened edges. One of the most unique features of the highway is the absence of railroad crossings, and the insertion of granite block grade crossings for bull carts. The road used by bull carts were usually built along the main road, with the granite blocks inserted at crossing points to protect the pavement.

In the 1930s and 40s, it became popular for American tourists to bring their automobiles from Tampa, Miami and Key West on a ferryboat. A tax on gasoline (which sold at a slightly higher, though not prohibitive rate than in the states) was used to pay for the highway.

Gerardo Machado