BY JOHN I. BORJA
Journal staff

Guam’s growing population is accompanied with an increasing number of vehicles that maneuver the island’s roads — a trend that can heighten the risk of traffic accidents, according to data from multiple local and federal agencies.

Data from the Guam Department of Revenue and Taxation indicated that by the end of fiscal 2018, there were 119,481 registered vehicles on Guam. With a population of at least 165,000, this equates to a 1:1.4 car-to-person ratio.

The recent count is a nearly 15% increase in registered vehicles compared to 10 years ago, where the number was 104,278. Of the fiscal 2018 amount, 79,974 were categorized as automobiles and 26,820 were cargo vehicles. They represented the biggest types of registered vehicles. Other categories include bus, handicapped, motorcycle, special equipment, taxi, trailer, veteran-designated, dealer, personalized and government.

The increasing number of vehicles on the road are correlated with the rise in traffic incidents, as recorded by the Guam Department of Public Works. The department sends annual statistics to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, detailing overall performance of the department’s goals to reduce traffic issues.

The fiscal 2017 report to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — the most recent report available — showed that from 2011 to 2015, there were between 6,500 and 7,500 car crashes each year. Of that range, between 850 and 1,120 of them led to serious injuries or death. In that same time period, the number of registered vehicles had increased from 109,842 to 116,291. (See table, “Traffic accidents from 2011 to 2015.”)

Though total crashes have not been made official for the following years, the Guam Police Department has recorded 13 traffic fatalities in 2016, 17 in 2017 and 24 in 2018, indicating an upward pattern.

DPW receives federal funding for maintenance and improvements on Guam’s main roads, but the agency has said secondary and tertiary roads are in dire need of repair. The most recent road improvements master plan estimates nearly $1 billion is needed to get these roads up to standard.

More vehicles are expected to grace Guam’s roads as the island population increases. According to the U.S. Census, Guam’s population was at 133,152 in 1990, 154,805 in 2000 and 159,358 in 2010. Nearing the next census in 2020, Guam’s current population exceeds 165,000 and is expected to rise considerably once military relocation projects are completed within the next five years.

Environmental impact studies on the military buildup estimated that by the time the relocation is completed, Guam’s population is expected to reach approximately 187,000. The relocation projects include infrastructural improvements to roads, although they are mostly focused on the northern part of the island. mbj