Panama Road Network

By | October 31, 2022

The Corredor Sur in Panama.

According to wholevehicles, Panama had a road network of 16,336 kilometers as of December 31, 2016. Of this, 6,944 kilometers are paved, 4,566 kilometers are a gravel road or with a coating. 4,856 kilometers consists of dirt roads.

Panama’s road network is not particularly extensive, with three main axes, the road from Panamá to the border with Costa Rica, the road from Panamá to the northern port city of Colón, and the road from Panamá to Yaviza. Due to the impenetrable jungles of the Darién Gap, there are no connections to Colombia and the Carretera Panamericana isinterrupted here too. In recent years, Panama’s highway network has expanded, which now consists of 4 highways, a highway from Panama to La Chorrera, a highway through central Panama to the airport, a northern Panama bypass and a new highway from Panama to Colón. The highway network is a total of 111 kilometers long. The secondary road network is not very extensive outside the Panamá region. There is only a larger road network on the southern Azuero peninsula, but the other roads are branches of the Carretera Panamericana.

The highest road in Panama is a road to the top of the Volcán Barú, to an altitude of approximately 3,420 meters. This is by far the highest road in Panama, there are no other roads above 2,000 meters.

The motorways are toll roads and are often made of concrete and of good quality. The quality of the other roads sometimes leaves something to be desired, especially the old road from Panamá to Colón, which has now been replaced by a motorway. There are hardly any roads along the north coast. East of the capital Panamá there is only one main road, which ends in Yaviza about 40 kilometers before the Colombian border.

Autopistas de Panama
Autopista Panamá-Colón • Corredor Norte • Corredor Sur • Via Centenario • Carretera Panamericana

Road management

The national road authority is the Ministerio de Obras Públicas (MOP). This ministry has existed since Panama’s independence in 1904.

History

Traditionally, the predecessor of the Ruta 3 was Panama’s main road during the colonial period, connecting Panamá to the north coast. This was called the Camino Real and was thus the connection between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. This route was used in the 17th and 18th centuries to transport silver and gold from the Andes to Europe. After independence, the road network around the Panama Canal became most developed in the early 20th century, as access roads to the mega project.

One of the country’s problems from 1914 onward was that Panama was effectively bisected by the Panama Canal. East-west traffic had to be via ferries. From the 1930s east-west traffic became more important, also when the Carretera Panamericana (Pan-American Highway) was set up, although the throughput importance for international traffic was limited due to the Darién Gap that was never developed. In 1942, a swing bridge was commissioned over the Miraflores locks near Panama City. However, this could only be used when no ships were passing through the locks, which became increasingly rare due to the increasing shipping on the Panama Canal.

In 1955 a treaty was signed with the United States to build a permanent bridge over the canal, choosing a site outside the canal zone proper, at the mouth of the Pacific Ocean. Between 1959 and 1962, the Puente de las Américas, a large steel arch bridge, was built. This was part of a 2×2 lane corridor west of Panama City. Further west, between Arraijan and La Chorrera, traffic was hampered by built-up areas. That is why in the late 1970s Panama’s first motorway was built here, a 22 kilometer long diversion between Arraijan and La Chorrera, which was opened in 1980.

Subsequently, in the 1990s, the Corredor Norte was constructed as an autopista along the north side of Panama City, so that urban traffic could move quickly through the city and through traffic did not have to go through the center. The Corredor Norte was opened in phases between 2001 and 2015. During the same period, the Corredor Sur was also constructed along the Pacific Ocean in Panama City. This gave the city two east-west connections for fast traffic in a short time. In the period 2007-2009, the Autopista Panamá-Colón was also constructed, parallel to the Panama Canal. Between 2002 and 2005, the Via Centenarioconstructed, with a second bridge over the Panama Canal, 12 kilometers north of the first bridge. At Colón, a third bridge is being built over the Panama Canal, the Puente Atlántico. There are also plans for a fourth bridge over the Panama Canal, near the old bridge from 1962.

Bridges over the Panama Canal

Name Type Length (main span) Opening
Puente de las Americas arch bridge 344 m 1962
Puente Centenario Cable-stayed bridge 420 m 2004
Puente Atlantico Cable-stayed bridge 530 m 2019
Cuarto Puente sobre el Canal de Panama Cable-stayed bridge 510 m 2023

Toll roads

The highways in Panama are mostly toll roads, managed by Empresa Nacional de Autopista (ENA). There is an electronic toll system called Panapass.

Road numbering

Road numbers in Panama are indicated on some maps. It is unclear to what extent this road numbering is actually signposted. The Ruta 1 is formed by the Carretera Panamericana and runs from the border with Costa Rica to Yaviza in the east. The other numbers are mainly branches of the Ruta 1. Motorways have no road numbering and are mainly known for their name.

Signage

Signage in Panama is similar to what is found elsewhere in Latin America, with green signs and white letters.

Panama Road Network